Cairo, Egypt — Egypt’s main liberal opposition movement said Sunday it would not nominate a presidential candidate in the election expected next year, after its frontrunner was sentenced to six months in prison.
Prominent dissident Hisham Kassem, sentenced on Saturday to six months in jail, had been “a potential presidential candidate”, his Free Current political coalition said.
The opposition group said it “would not be nominating a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections”, after Kassem was found guilty of defaming a former minister and “contempt of officials” and sentenced.
“Hisham Kassem was a potential presidential candidate, had the basic electoral guarantees been provided,” the Free Current said in a statement, also announcing it was suspending operations.
The presidential election, expected to be held next year, has already been fraught with accusations of repression.
“The political atmosphere will not allow for free, fair and just elections, without which the regime is both competitor and referee,” according to the coalition.
The only candidate campaigning so far, Ahmed al-Tantawi, has denounced repeated harassment by the security forces against his teams and supporters.
On Friday, Tantawi revealed his phone had been bugged, according to a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is widely expected to announce his candidacy, but has not yet done so.
The former army chief was first elected in 2014 after leading the ouster of elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
He then won the 2018 election in a landslide victory against one of his own supporters.
Kassem’s Free Current coalition, formed in June by opposition parties, advocates economic liberalisation and calls for an end to the army’s stranglehold on Egypt’s economy.
According to coalition member Gameela Ismail, Kassem was long viewed as a threat because of his criticism of the military’s role in the economy — which has been in free fall for more than a year and is likely to be a key bone of contention in the upcoming polls.
Kassem — in custody since August 20 — was initially summoned after an ex-minister complained he had shared online articles suggesting the minister had embezzled funds.
The activist was later accused of “contempt” by officers during questioning at a police station.
Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday called on Egypt’s authorities to “immediately release” Kassem.
It called his detention “a signal that the Egyptian authorities’ relentless campaign to silence peaceful critics and punish dissent… is continuing in full force”.