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Egypt: Dozens detained 'randomly' in crackdown ahead of presidential elections

Rights group says around 30 people have been rounded up in Beheira governorate as part of a nationwide campaign days after authorities declared 10 December as the date for the presidential vote
Egyptian police stand outside the entrance to al-Qanatir women's prison in Qalyoubiya province
Egyptian police stand outside the entrance to al-Qanatir women's prison in Qalyoubiya province (AFP)

Egyptian security forces detained dozens of people on Wednesday in an apparent crackdown on dissent ahead of the December presidential elections, a rights groups has said.

Egypt’s elections authority on Monday announced the timeline for the vote, which will take place on 10 December amid a crackdown on government critics and opposition leaders expected to run against President Abdelfattah el-Sisi. 

According to the Egyptian Network of Human Rights (ENHR), security forces dressed in civilian clothes raided several homes in the coastal governorate of Beheira and detained at least 30 people. 

“They were taken to an unknown destination before they were presented on Wednesday afternoon to the Kafr el-Dawwar prosecutor's office,” the ENHR statement said. 

“They were investigated on charges of spreading false news and joining an outlawed group,” it added, referring to charges commonly levelled against members of the Egyptian opposition and critics of Sisi. 

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Those arrested will be detained for 15 days pending further investigations, the organisation said.

The ENHR has also documented dozens of arrests by Egyptian security forces in recent days, which it has described as “random” and as a way of using “pretrial detention as a means of punishment, not as a legal measure”.

Earlier this week, the rights group also documented the "enforced disappearance" for two weeks of a former Sisi supporter who declared that he regretted voting for Sisi in the past beause of the deteriorating economic conditions in the country.

Meanwhile, another rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said on Tuesday that security forces had detained at least 73 members of the election campaign of opposition politician and former MP Ahmed Tantawi.

The detained volunteers include four lawyers who joined Tantawi's presidential campaign in three different governorates. In response, Tantawi announced the suspension of campaign activities for 48 hours.

However, Tantawi and other presidential hopefuls have yet to be officially declared as presidential candidates, and the Egyptian opposition remains divided on which candidate to support against Sisi.

According to article 142 of the Egyptian constitution, to be formally approved as a candidate requires the endorsement of at least 20 members of the House of Representatives or the signatures of at least 25,000 citizens in at least 15 governorates. 

On Wednesday, Tantawi said his campaign has only managed to collect two signatures from the public, because of security restrictions on his supporters. On the other hand, many Sisi supporters have queued in front of registration offices to submit signatures in support of President Sisi, without any harassment reported. 

Economic crisis

The presidential election will take place as Egypt is in the midst of a severe economic crisis that has seen the Egyptian pound lose half its value against the dollar, leading to record inflation and foreign currency shortages. 

In August, annual inflation in Egypt reached close to 40 percent, according to official figures.

The election comes against the backdrop of continued targeting of the opposition, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners languishing in jails since Sisi came to power in 2014, a year after leading a coup that toppled Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

Sisi won a second term in the 2018 election in a landslide victory, with 97 percent of the vote, against one candidate, himself a supporter of Sisi, after all serious opposition hopefuls had either been arrested or pulled out, citing intimidation.

Constitutional amendments in 2019 paved the way for the 68-year-old former army general to stand for an additional two terms, as well as extending the duration of presidential terms from four years to six. 

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