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Emerging Candidate In Egypt Probably Won't Change Presidential Election Outcome


A second candidate has finally entered the presidential race in Egypt. But he probably isn't going to be a huge challenge to the incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. And he might not even want to be. That's because this new candidate is actually a supporter of el-Sisi. Voting is at the end of March. And to talk about the race, we're joined by NPR's Jane Arraf from Cairo. Hello.


MCEVERS: So who is this person who's decided to challenge the Egyptian president?

ARRAF: Well, that's the question a lot of people, including Egyptians, are asking because Moussa Mostafa Moussa is fairly low-profile. He's the head of a political party called al-Ghad. And he's an engineer. And he just really turned up today - today being the deadline for registering as a candidate. It's a liberal-secular party, but it doesn't have any members of Parliament. So hours before the deadline closed, he submitted his papers but seems to have forgotten that on his Facebook page, he was still endorsing President Sisi for president. That has now come down.

MCEVERS: So, you know, you said today was the deadline. Why didn't anyone else run?

ARRAF: It wasn't exactly lack of interest. It wasn't easy to run to begin with. You needed either 25,000 signatures from voters in 10 provinces or 20 members of Parliament to back you. And almost the entire Parliament had endorsed Sisi. So when they did declare, things kept happening to them. There was a former military chief of staff who was arrested. There was another politician who returned from the United Arab Emirates, said he was detained on arrival. He withdrew.

Another potential rival said that his workers were threatened and harassed and one by one, they all fell away. So there wasn't a whole lot of competition here. And it isn't clear that Mr. Moussa is going to be much competition either.

MCEVERS: Right. So does that all mean that Sisi is basically assured a win here?

ARRAF: He is pretty much assured of a win. He got almost a million signatures endorsing him. And it isn't really an election in the sense that we think of it. I mean, the president is elected, but he controls the military, security services. The country is under martial law. Now, he does have his supporters. There are people who think he's exactly what Egypt needs right now. But there are a lot of people - people I talked to in the street - who say they're just not interested or they're not going to go to vote. They've got other things to worry about.

And they've seen what happens when you go out, you raise your voice. Bad things happen to people. And that could limit the participation in the election.

MCEVERS: I think people hearing this would think, you know, what happened to the Arab Spring of seven years ago when all of these kinds of practices were supposed to go away? What's happened to that?

ARRAF: So the short answer is that people here will tell you - a lot of people will tell you that the revolution was hijacked. And hijacked by whom really depends on whom you ask. But certainly what's clear is that initial promise of dignity, quality, human rights, prosperity hasn't been borne out. And the country has remained quite firmly in the grip of the military, even though it does have an elected president. And for a lot of people, those days of Arab Spring and toppling dictators and the thought of change, that's just kind of a bittersweet dream.

MCEVERS: NPR's Jane Arraf in Cairo, thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.