|Date: Mar 22, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Egypt's alternative to el-Sissi says campaign 'very serious'|
CAIRO: The little-known alternative candidate to Egypt's president in next week's election insisted on Wednesday that his campaign is serious, despite charges he entered the race at the last minute only to give it a veneer of legitimacy.
Moussa Mustapha Moussa said only a lack of funding and donations have held his campaign back, compared to incumbent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. He spoke on the sidelines of a news conference in Cairo in which he described his candidacy as a patriotic duty.
"The campaign is very serious," he told The Associated Press. "The means are not enough though, we don't have enough capabilities and supporters to give us free advertising, whereas President Sissi has that luxury."
He was referring to the pro-Sissi banners donated by local businessmen that now dominate the country's public thoroughfares.
Critics say the March 26-28 vote is a virtual one-man referendum, after all serious competitors were arrested or intimidated into withdrawing. Moussa's party had supported the president until he launched his own bid, just hours before the deadline for presidential candidates closed, and he himself says he does not want to challenge el-Sissi's policies.
Those include a crackdown on dissent and civil liberties the likes of which Egypt has never before seen in its modern history, with up to 60,000 political prisoners, according to some rights groups.
Simultaneously, el-Sissi has waged a seemingly endless war against militants, mostly in the Sinai Peninsula, while ushering in painful economic reforms that have pleased investors but hit the country's poorer masses hard. Prices for nearly everything have surged under his leadership.
The economy has yet to make a turnaround that brings employment and prosperity to the masses, although economists say austerity policies were necessary and have laid the groundwork for future improvements.
Meanwhile, the country's institutions all appear to have lined up behind el-Sissi, at least publicly, ahead of the vote, often repeating the mantra that he has provided a stability that was lacking under his Islamist predecessor. Mohammed Morsi, elected in what was arguably Egypt's first free election, now languishes in prison under harsh conditions with failing health, according to his family, since el-Sissi overthrew him in 2013.
While no one doubts the outcome of the vote, authorities are hoping a reasonable turnout will prove public support for el-Sissi, whose rule appears increasingly autocratic and decree-driven. Critics say the vote has been staggered over three days to encourage higher numbers.
Moussa himself recognizes the importance of appearances, describing his role as an important way to give Egypt a democratic air and drive voter turnout, despite the fact that neither he nor el-Sissi have actively campaigned.
"A referendum will not encourage people to vote because there's only one person," he said, adding that what the country needed was "a proper election," that shows it is a "proper democracy."
Echoing the authorities' depiction of vote boycotters as subversives who deserve punishment, Moussa blamed calls to show a low turnout as a "conspiracy" driven by Morsi's banned Muslim Brotherhood.
"We have enemies everywhere," he said as cameramen crowded his cramped office. "Some are trying to get the country down, and we won't allow that."