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Khaled Ali, Sisi's 'final challenger', quits Egyptian presidential race

Khaled Ali's withdrawal comes a day after authorities detained another of Sisi's final serious rivals, former military chief of staff Sami Anan
Khaled Ali gained prominence in January when he won a case that nullified a government transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia (Reuters)

Egyptian human rights lawyer and opposition leader Khaled Ali has withdrawn his candidacy from the upcoming presidential elections, his campaign announced at a Cairo press conference on Wednesday.

Ali, who was the first person to announce he is running against incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, told a news conference in November last year that he would run on a socialist platform, aiming to end austerity and redistribute wealth, and fight terrorism without compromising freedom.

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

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"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.

As recently as 11 January he had indicated his intention to stand, telling supporters "We have chosen to fight a difficult battle" and raising concerns about whether the election process would be fair and free.

But on Wednesday he told another press conference livestreamed on social media that he would not present candidacy papers for the March vote.

Ali, who stood as a presidential candidate in 2012 elections but won few votes, was considered one of the final serious contenders in an election in which Sisi is expected to claim a second term in office.

But he faced possible disqualification from the contest after being sentenced last September by a Cairo court to three months in jail for public indecency, allegedly over a rude hand gesture at a protest.

The 45-year-old gained prominence last 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, and he had made reclaiming the islands a cornerstone of his campaign.

Ali appealed, denying the charges which he said were linked to his announced intention to run against Sisi, and the appeal verdict is expected days before the March vote.

Candidates challenging Sisi have described sweeping efforts to kill off their campaigns before they begin, with media attacks, intimidation of supporters, and a nomination process stacked in favour of the former general.

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In the last such move, authorities detained Sisi's rival, former military chief of staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan on Tuesday after the army accused him of breaking the law by running for office without permission. His campaign was halted in its tracks.

Sources close to another former contender, Ahmed Shafiq, told Middle East Eye that his decision to abandon his campaign earlier this month came after he was warned that he would be smeared with allegations over an alleged sex tape and corruption if he decided to run.

Sisi, who won election in a landslide in 2014 after leading the army in ousting Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi a year earlier, submitted on Wednesday documents to become the first candidate to register for the 26-28 March vote. 

Any remaining candidates have only until 29 January to register before a final list is announced on 20 February, according to election rules.

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