Khaled Ali withdraws from Egyptian presidential race

The Egyptian presidential hopeful and rights lawyer Khaled Ali has quit the race, becoming the latest would-be candidate who either has bowed out or been forced to abandon a challenge to the president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, before the March election.

Ali, a prominent socialist, had entered the race as a symbol of Egypt’s leftist revolutionary politics, but on Wednesday he told a press conference packed with supporters that “the opportunity for hope in this presidential election has gone”.

Ali’s decision came hours after Sisi submitted his nomination documents, and a day after the retired general Sami Anan – seen as a serious challenger to Sisi – was arrested by the military on a slate of charges after declaring his intention to run. Anan’s family said on Wednesday that his whereabouts remained unknown.

The moves appear to show that the vote on 26-28 March is being reduced to little more than a one-candidate referendum.

Sisi recently received endorsements from more than 500 of the 596 members of parliament before even officially declaring his intention to run for a second term.

Ali said he had aborted his campaign because of overwhelming obstacles that had prevented him from even getting on the ballot, and accused the elections committee of “violations”.

“Our bid was met with a campaign of pressure. Several members of our campaign were arrested,” he said.

Ali’s campaign had hoped to show that political change remained possible for Egyptians.

But the lawyer had faced almost insurmountable challenges from the start, initially in the form of a court case accusing him of making “an obscene gesture” outside a Cairo court. He was convicted, and if that ruling is upheld on appeal he will be ineligible to run. The next appeal hearing is due in early March.

Khalid Dawoud, a prominent member of the Constitution party, which had shown support for Ali, said he was unsure whether it was Anan’s arrest that had convinced Ali not to run, “but there was a widespread feeling that we won’t be given a chance to compete”.

“Anan’s arrest in this rough manner added [to] the impression that this regime wants a referendum, not competitive elections,” he said. “We wanted a true competition. We didn’t want to take part in a play or provide material for the regime to claim these are genuine elections.”