A fig leaf of democracy is being developed in Egypt amid persecution of opposition, mass executions and imposition of state of emergency to give wide powers to suppress all kind of dissent of a quazi-military government of US-client President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who deposed Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi in July 2013.
The presidential election in Egypt is scheduled for March 26-28. However, a complicated election process has been evolved to ensure that there should not be any meaningful challenge to the incumbent president Al-Sisi who is seeking re-election.
To be eligible to run for president, a candidate must collect 25,000 signatures from constituents across 15 governorates (with at least 1,000 signatures from each area), or the signatures of 20 members of the pro-Al-Sisi parliament.
On January 23, the army arrested presidential contender Sami Anan, former head of the Egyptian armed forces. Anan was accused of committing violations that "warrant official investigation", according to the Supreme Committee of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The army said the 69-year-old had not obtained the army's approval to run for president and accused him of seeking to divide the armed forces and citizens of Egypt.
Amnesty International has described Anan's arrest "an attack on the rights to public participation and freedom of expression" in Egypt.
"It appears that Sami Anan has been detained because he was widely considered to be a serious contender" against Al-Sisi, said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's director of North Africa campaigns.
"This is not the first time such a contender has been prevented from running against the incumbent."
Indeed, a handful of presidential hopefuls have abandoned their campaigns in recent weeks.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik's plan to run was short-lived after he withdrew his potential candidacy earlier this month. "I saw that I would not be the ideal person to lead the state during the coming period," Shafik said in a statement posted on Twitter. One of Shafik's lawyers accused the Egyptian government of putting pressure on the 76-year-old by threatening to re-investigate previous corruption allegations against him.
Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy told Al-Jazeera that the Sisi government has "made it so untenable and so undesirable and so dangerous to run" for president today, that it is "fairly discouraging for anybody who would seriously entertain" the idea.
He also said the Egyptian government appears unconcerned by whether anyone views the election as credible. "The question is: what's worse, a convincing sham, or one that's transparently a sham?" Kaldas said.
In December, Ahmed Konsowa, an Egyptian army colonel, was sentenced to six years in prison after he announced his intention to run for president. Konsowa was charged with "stating political opinions contrary to the requirements of military order", his lawyer said.
Another high-profile potential candidate, Mohamed Anwar el-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt's assassinated former president, Anwar Sadat, also recently cancelled his campaign. A spokesperson for el-Sadat's campaign told Reuters that at least three Cairo hotels reportedly refused to rent el-Sadat a space from which to officially launch his candidacy and printers refused to print his campaign manifesto. "It's a systematic campaign to kill off candidates. I call it a political assassination process," Osama Badie told the news agency.
Egypt extends state of emergency