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Egyptian human rights lawyer challenging Sisi for presidency

Khaled Ali criticised Sisi's administration, accusing it of suppressing freedoms and causing deteriorating economic and security conditions
Khaled Ali said he would run on a socialist platform (Reuters)

Egyptian human rights lawyer and opposition leader Khaled Ali said on Monday he would challenge President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the 2018 presidential election, provided he is not barred from the contest.

Ali is the first person to announce he is running against Sisi, a former military commander who led the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood more than four years ago.

Ali told a news conference he would run on a socialist platform, aiming to end austerity and redistribute wealth, and fight terrorism without compromising freedom.

He criticised Sisi's administration, accusing it of suppressing freedoms and causing deteriorating economic and security conditions.

"In spite of all the darkness, there is still hope. I call on all segments of society to unite in collective struggle to reclaim this hope and to rescue this nation," he said.

"It is because of this that I have decided today to launch a presidential campaign."

Sisi himself has yet to declare if he will run, but he is widely expected to do so. He won 97 percent of the vote in 2014 in an election that was boycotted by the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Under Sisi's presidency, thousands of dissidents have been jailed. The government has shut down independent media and heavily restricted the conducting of opinion polls.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights groups have accused Egyptian security forces of torture and arbitrary detentions to silence dissent.

“Prosecutions, travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders, in addition to repressive new legislation, threaten to effectively eradicate independent civil society,” HRW has said.

If it appeared elections were being rigged, Ali said, he would call for a boycott by opposition candidates, forcing Sisi to be the sole contender.

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A Cairo court sentenced Ali in September to three months in jail for public indecency, allegedly over an rude hand gesture.

Ali has appealed, denying the charges which he says are politically motivated. If the guilty verdict is upheld, he will not be allowed to run, even if he is not jailed.

The 45-year-old gained prominence in January when he won a case that nullified a government transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, a deal that had prompted mass protests. It was after winning that case that Ali is alleged to have made the gesture.

Egypt's reclaiming of the islands would be a cornerstone of his campaign, he said. 

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