Egypt to investigate those calling for vote boycott

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2017 file photo, provided by Egypt's state news agency, MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi salutes as he inspects troops with Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhy, in Suez, Egypt. Egypt's prosecutor general launched an investigation into leading opposition figures who have called for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election, over accusations they are attempting to "overthrow the regime." The investigation, announced late Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, stems from a complaint filed by a lawyer who says the boycotters have harmed Egypt's image. (MENA via AP, File)

CAIRO — Egypt's prosecutor general has launched an investigation into leading opposition figures who have called for a boycott of next month's presidential election, over accusations they are attempting to "overthrow the regime."

Nabil Sadeq's office in a statement late Monday said it had referred a complaint filed against 13 individuals by a lawyer named Mohammed Hamid Salam to the Giza prosecutor's office, which may now call them in for examination.

The move is yet another sign that authorities will not allow even the slightest questioning of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's continued rule ahead of the March vote, in which he is the only serious candidate despite a last-minute bid launched by a supporter.

A coalition of eight opposition parties and some 150 prominent pro-democracy figures, including former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, announced a boycott last month. The complaint accuses them of "incitement against the state" and trying to destabilize the country.

Authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected Islamist president in 2013, and pro-government media routinely portray dissent as part of a foreign conspiracy to sow chaos.

Khaled Dawoud, head of the Constitution Party and one of the boycotters, denied the allegations in a Facebook post, saying that such "lies" themselves were incitement and that he "cannot understand what the prosecutor general is concerned about." Dawoud is an outspoken critic of what he calls the current wave of "oppression."

Former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, a nephew of assassinated Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, said Egypt needed a national dialogue and "real independent institutions" in order to "avoid escalations and clashes." Sadat had considered running but cancelled his bid last month, saying he feared for the safety of his supporters.

"The political freeze that we are living, which is similar to a blood clot around the heart, if left uncontrolled, the whole body will be in danger," he said in a Tuesday statement.

The complaint now under investigation says that by holding a press conference to call for a boycott, the group besmirched Egypt's image at home and abroad. But democracy advocates have already roundly dismissed the election.

"Having presided over four years of consolidation of power, eliminating any real opportunity for the opposition in the upcoming presidential elections and achieving near full control over the media, el-Sissi has effectively guaranteed his victory," wrote Nancy Okail of the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in a report on the election released Monday.

El-Sissi says the March 26-28 vote should be considered legitimate, and that the country's security and economic recovery should take precedence over political freedoms.

He is the only serious contender, after several prominent figures were arrested or withdrew. El-Sissi's only opponent is a little-known politician who supports him and whose eleventh-hour entry is widely seen as a face-saving move to avoid the spectacle of a single candidate referendum.

The election itself will be held over three days in what critics say is an attempt to maximize participation from an uninspired public. In poorer areas, pro-government notables and businessmen have offered voters food and cash to register their support for el-Sissi.


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