CAIRO (AP) — Supporters of Egypt’s president announced on Sunday that they have collected more than 12 million signatures from people urging him to run for a second four-year term, a mostly symbolic gesture as there is little doubt he will contest, and win, next year’s elections.
A general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has yet to formally announce his candidacy. He has said he will make his decision after gauging popular reaction to a “factsheet” of his achievements due to be publicized next month.
El-Sissi was elected in 2014, a year after leading the military’s overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The government has since waged a heavy crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people — mostly Islamists but also many secular pro-democracy activists. It has also blocked hundreds of websites, banned all unauthorized demonstrations and slapped a travel ban on many rights campaigners.
With his win in the 2018 vote an almost foregone conclusion, a large voter turnout would take on added significance, affirming el-Sissi’s candidacy as the people’s choice. His likely opponents — the list so far includes a prominent rights activist, a former prime minister and an opposition politician thrown out of parliament — are not expected to pose a serious challenge to him securing a second term.
Mohammed el-Garhy, the chief coordinator of the group that gathered the signatures, told a news conference Sunday that “the supreme goal of our campaign is to safeguard the Egyptian state.” He was alluding to the widespread conviction among el-Sissi’s supporters that his policies since 2013 have protected Egypt from the chaos and bloodshed seen in fellow Arab countries like Libya, Yemen or Syria.
The group has carried out a large-scale publicity campaign, with giant posters of the president looming over some of Cairo’s busiest roads. The group is called “So You Can Build It (Egypt),” a play on the…