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Presidential hopeful Ahmed Tantawi: Friends ‘disappeared’ before reaching campaign HQ

Nine friends and an unknown number of supporters of presidential hopeful Ahmed Tantawi “disappeared” on Friday while on their way to his downtown Cairo office to meet with him, the former Karama Party leader and ex-MP announced in a statement .

Supporters of Tantawi’s supporters, friends and family members have been arrested and released since he announced in April that he would mount a bid for the presidency in 2024, when the current term of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will come to an end.

Tantawi said he rented an office in downtown Cairo last week to serve as the headquarters for his campaign. For four days, he continued, he received visitors to the site offering advice and support. But things took a turn for the worse on Friday at 5 pm, when nine of his friends, who were on their way from Daqahlia Governorate to meet him at his office in Cairo, “disappeared” as they were about to arrive.

“Punishing those who adhere to the right to political action and peaceful change will not benefit the authorities,” Tantawi said, adding that targeting those close to him will not stop him from running for president.

Out of the 16 friends and relatives of Tantawi arrested before his return from eight months of self-imposed exile in Lebanon, 11 remain in custody, the statement said. Tantawi added that they have faced “violations of their basic rights,” citing family members who visited them.

Alongside them are “an unknown number who were arrested in several governorates, for short periods of time, before they were released,” the presidential hopeful pointed out.

Mada Masr tried to contact Tantawi to find out more details about those who disappeared, their numbers and their relationship to him, but did not receive a response as of the time of his writing.

According to a Karama Party official who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, Tantawi was advised that revealing the volume of arrests targeting people joining or attempting to join his campaign might discourage others from doing the same.

“We advised him to form a legal committee to provide support and legal assistance to all those arrested on the grounds of their closeness to his election campaign,” the source said.

Dozens of Tantawi’s supporters have been detained for several days and then released with a warning to cut their ties with the potential candidate, said the source, describing the campaign as a scare tactic to stop the presidential bid.

Following the first arrests of Tantwai supporters earlier this month, two lawyers who were present during the interrogation of 15 of Tantawi’s supporters — including two of his uncles — previously told Mada Masr that the total number of people arrested for supporting Tantawi remains unclear. The lawyers noted that besides the two relatives, most of the people arrested had no link to the candidate except being in his former parliamentary constituency.

According to the two lawyers, the defendants faced various accusations, including “possessing leaflets that promoted support for Tantawi by force, and others that promoted statements by Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.” Some defendants were also charged with possessing “fireworks and weapons.” They denied all the charges.

On May 10, the State Security Prosecution released one uncle, Mohamed Sayed Ahmed Attia and another relative on bail. Tantawi returned to the country the following day, after postponing his announced return — previously scheduled for May 4 — to avoid the potential arrest of supporters who planned to receive him at the airport.

His other uncle, Mohamed Naguib Tantawi, was ordered released along with another supporter on May 18, hours before Tantwai appeared on the BBC in his first televised interview since his return to Egypt and the announcement of his candidacy.

Tantawi, a former Karama Party leader and member of the Civil Democratic Movement opposition alliance, announced his last month bid for the 2024 presidential elections. After announcing earlier this month his plans to return to Cairo, to launch his presidential campaign after 8 months of self-imposed exile, several of his supporters and family members were arrested, some later released.

Presidential hopefuls will be able to submit their bids for the candidacy in the 2024 presidential race in October or November, State Information Service head and coordinator of the National Dialogue, Diaa Rashwan said earlier this week.

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