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Egypt's last major challenger to Sisi drops presidential bid after his arrest

Military says former chief of staff Sami Anan wants to drive wedge between army and people
Former Egyptian army chief of staff Sami Anan with then-US Commander of the Central Command James Mattis during a meeting in Cairo in 2011 (AFP)

Egypt's former chief of staff Sami Anan pulled out of the presidential race on Tuesday, after he was arrested for "incitement" only days after announcing his intention to run.

Organisers of the campaign announced that he had called off his bid. They gave no details of his whereabouts following what they described as his detention. 

An army spokesman said that Anan's announcement to stand was intended to drive a wedge between the armed forces and the Egyptian people and that Anan had falsified official documents which stated his military service had terminated, which was required for former military officials to run for election.

But, speaking to MEE, Mahmoud Refaat, a lawyer and the spokesperson for Anan's presidential campaign, refuted these accusations, saying the were "all lies".

'Isn't it unusual that Sisi is accusing Anan of corruption just now?'

- Mahmoud Refaat, campaign spokesperson 

“What has happened is a crime. The regime is trying to terrorise everyone and it is time that the international community take a stand,” Refaat said.

"Sami Anan took all the necessary steps to run in the elections," he added.

"Isn't it unusual that Sisi is accusing Anan of corruption just now?," he asked, referring to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Refaat went on to say that he was worried about Anan's safety and believed his life was under threat.

"Sisi threatened three days ago that anyone who announces his candidacy and is charged with corruption will be killed."

The army spokesman added that "the armed forces will not overlook the blatant legal violations [Anan] has committed which are a serious breach of the laws of military service."

The armed forces will not overlook the blatant legal violations

- Egyptian army statement

The spokesman said Anan had announced his candidacy "without getting permission from the armed forces ... or taking the steps necessary to terminate his service".

Anan announced his candidacy on Saturday, a day after the current president, Sisi, confirmed his run for a second term.

"I call on civilian and military institutions to maintain neutrality towards everyone who had announced their intention to run and not take unconstitutional sides of a president who will leave his post in a few months," Anan said on Saturday.

Refaat also said that despite fears that Anan would be sidelined by Sisi after his announcement to run for president, he felt the need to take this step.

"Shafiq was blackmailed and that’s why he pulled out," said Refaat, referring to Ahmed Shafiq who announced earlier this month that he would not stand in the 2018 presidential elections, reversing a pledge to challenge Sisi at the polls.

"Despite these fear tactics, Anan announced his candidacy because Egypt is in real need for a man to save it from sinking," he added. 

Anan served as armed forces chief of staff from 2005 until he was retired by president Mohamed Morsi in 2012 and analysts said his candidacy might attract Egyptians nostalgic for the relative stability of the Hosni Mubarak era.

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When Mubarak, the longtime strongman, was forced to step down by the Arab Spring protests of 2011, he ceded power to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), an interim executive made up of 20 generals in which Anan served as number two.

Egypt will hold its presidential election in March, and a run-off vote the next month if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round.

Several prominent figures who had been seen as potential challengers to Sisi had already ruled themselves out even before registrations opened on Saturday.

Sources close to Shafiq said he pulled out after being threatened with a smear campaign.

Last Monday, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, a dissident and nephew of the late president of the same name, said he would not stand either because the climate was not right for free elections.

Additional reporting by Arwa Ibrahim.

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