Egypt opposition parties call for boycott of presidential election

A coalition of eight Egyptian opposition parties and some 150 pro-democracy public figures calls for a boycott of the March presidential election, calling it an "absurdity" and comparing the government's handling of the vote to that of "old and crude dictatorships."

Parties in coalition have been effectively neutralized, as regime has cracked down on dissent

Former presidential candidate and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi speaks during a news conference of opposition politicians in Cairo on Wednesday. Sabahi urged Egyptians to boycott the election, which features one little-known politician challenging Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A coalition of eight Egyptian opposition parties and some 150 pro-democracy public figures called Tuesday for a boycott of the March presidential election, calling it an "absurdity" and comparing the government's handling of the vote to that of "old and crude dictatorships."

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is virtually certain to win a second, four-year term in the March 26-28 vote. A face-saving candidate's last-minute entry spared the government the embarrassment of a one-candidate election but drew a torrent of criticism and mockery on social media.

The call for a boycott by the Civilian Democratic Movement came just days after five opposition figures, including a 2012 presidential candidate and two top campaign aides for now-arrested presidential hopeful Sami Annan, called on voters to stay away from ballot boxes and on Egyptians not to recognize the vote's outcome.

"It is not right for us to surrender to what has become an absurdity bordering on madness," Abdel-Geleel Mustafa, a veteran opposition figure, told a news conference at one of the parties' headquarters in Cairo.

Hamdeen Sabahy, who finished a distant second behind el-Sisi in the 2014 election, called on other pro-democracy groups to join the coalition.

"Come and let us stand together. This is a moment when the people will make their say known and, God willing, the say of the people will prevail," he told the news conference.

Candidate with no standing to run

The ideology of the eight parties is rooted in the 2011 uprising that ended the 29-year autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. They also supported the massive June 2013 protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, which paved the way for the military's ouster of him the following month.

They and others have since been sidelined by el-Sisi, who has waged one of the most sweeping crackdowns on dissent in Egypt's modern history.

The parties have limited support on the ground, in large part due to restrictions on their activities placed by security agencies. Their call for a boycott, however, could dampen turnout.

The parties said their young members came up with the slogan "stay home" for their boycott campaign. Speakers for the parties did not say what they intend to do to make the boycott effective.

Moussa Mostafa Moussa, chairperson of the Ghad party, is shown in Cairo on Monday announcing his presidential bid, which drew skepticism from many political watchers in Egypt. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Egyptian elections typically attract low turnout, particularly when the outcome is a foregone conclusion. El-Sisi has repeatedly urged Egypt's estimated 60 million registered voters to cast ballots.

After a string of would-be challengers were arrested, forced out or quit the race, the prospect of a virtual referendum — not unlike those held by autocratic rulers in the past — had clouded the election.

Moussa Mustafa Moussa, a little known politician and a staunch supporter of el-Sisi, submitted his documents Monday, just minutes before the election commission's deadline. Moussa is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow, party, which does not have a single seat in parliament.

The national election authority said Tuesday that both el-Sisi and Moussa had met the requirements and declared them official candidates.

Moussa told a news conference Monday that he did not intend to be a "prop" in the election. But until a few days ago, he was a staunch supporter of el-Sisi's re-election.