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Egypt: 73 supporters of Sisi critic, challenger arrested

Egyptian authorities have detained at least 73 people volunteering for a challenger to incumbent President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in the December election, a rights group said Tuesday. Seven remained in detention as of Monday.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said the detainees were volunteers working for presidential hopeful and critic Ahmed Altantawy. The dozens of supporters face a variety of charges including joining a terrorist group — government parlance for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood — and spreading false news.

On Monday, Egypt’s chairman of the National Election Authority, Waleed Hamza, announced that the country will hold a presidential election over three days in December, with the outcome widely anticipated to be a foregone conclusion in favor of the incumbent Al-Sisi. The former defense minister has led the country since 2014 and has faced criticism from the West over his country’s human rights record and crackdown on political dissent.

Altantawy is part of a small group of politicians who have announced their bids as challengers. The former lawmaker, who returned to Egypt from Lebanon in May, said he wants to provide a democratic alternative to Al-Sisi’s government, describing its treatment of political opponents as unlawful and unjust.

Altantawy has previously complained that Egyptian security agencies have harassed his campaign staff and family, and also claimed that authorities have spied on him through cutting-edge technology.

Al-Sisi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013 amid street protests against his one-year rule. Since then, authorities have launched a major crackdown on dissent. Thousands of government critics have been silenced or jailed, mainly of them Islamists but also many prominent secular activists, including some of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Sisi was first elected in 2014 and then reelected in 2018 for a second four-year term. Constitutional amendments, passed in a referendum in 2019, added two years to his second term, and allowed him to run for a third, six-year term.

Other presidential candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring publicly include Abdel-Sanad Yamama, head of the Wafd party, one of Egypt’s oldest; Gameela Ismail, head of the liberal Dostour, or Constitution, party; and Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

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