CAIRO: Over a dozen international and regional rights groups said on Tuesday that next month's presidential election in Egypt does not meet the "minimum requirements" for a fair and free vote and called on Cairo's Western allies to denounce the "farcical" election.
The incumbent, general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is virtually certain to win the March vote, his only challenger an obscure politician and one of his most ardent supporters.
Moussa Mustafa Moussa entered the race in the eleventh hour, sparing el-Sissi and his government the deeper embarrassment of a one-candidate election.
Meanwhile, leaders of opposition parties who called for a boycott of the vote are being investigated on allegations they are seeking to destabilize the country.
The 14 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, said el-Sissi's government has "suppressed freedoms, arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters."
El-Sissi has since 2013 overseen a wide crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Islamists and also scores of activists behind the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The crackdown followed the July 2013 ouster by the military, then led by el-Sissi, of President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist whose one-year rule proved to be divisive.
Elected to office the following year, el-Sissi has since silenced most critics in the media, rolled back freedoms won by the 2011 uprising and placed draconian restrictions on demonstrations and the work of rights groups.
"The Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections for the planned March 26-28 vote," the 14 groups said in a statement. El-Sissi's government "has relentlessly stifled basic freedoms and arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters."
"Seven years after Egypt's 2011 uprising, the government has made a mockery of the basic rights for which protesters fought," it added.
In a related development, Egypt's military said late Monday that it would take action to safeguard its "honor and dignity" following incendiary comments by the country's former top anti-graft official.
The ex-auditor, Hesham Genena, told a private Arabic-language TV station earlier this week that former military chief of staff Sami Annan is in possession of documents incriminating the country's "leadership." The documents are kept abroad and would be released if any harm came to Annan, he said.
Annan was arrested by the military last month, just days after he declared his intention to run for president. The military says Annan faces charges of incitement against the military and forgery.
In a statement, the military said Genena's comments raise "suspicions" around the state and its institutions and that it would refer the matter to "relevant" authorities to initiate legal proceedings, suggesting that Genena would be summoned for questioning.
Genena, who was to be among Annan's top campaign aides, was not immediately available for comment. Genena led Egypt's watchdog agency until el-Sissi fired him in 2016.
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