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Former army chief, leftist are only candidates in Egypt presidential poll

Source: Reuters - Sun, 20 Apr 2014 18:26 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Former army general Sisi expected to win vote easily

* Neither candidate has outlined a manifesto

* Vote to be held May 26-27 (Adds background, details)

By Maggie Fick and Mahmoud Mourad

CAIRO, April 20 (Reuters) - The former army general who toppled Egypt's first freely elected president will face a leftist politician in next month's presidential election, as they were the only candidates to enter before nominations closed, the committee organising the vote said.

The committee had received paperwork from former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and former parliamentarian and presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, it said at a news conference on Sunday, several hours after the deadline had passed.

The elections will be held in a barren political climate after the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak raised hopes of a robust democracy in the biggest Arab nation.

Neither candidate has outlined a strategy for tackling poverty, energy shortages and unemployment that afflict many of Egypt's 85 million people.

Abdelaziz Salman, secretary-general of the Presidential Elections Committee, said that Sisi had submitted 188,930 signatures endorsing his candidacy to the committee, and Sabahi had submitted 31,555. The required number is 25,000.

The committee will announce the official list of candidates on May 2 for the vote on May 26-27. Campaigning will run from May 3 to 23.

Tarek Shebl, a member of the committee, told Reuters after the news conference that if the winning candidate does not get 50 percent plus one of the total number of votes cast, a run-off will be held.

Sisi, who deposed President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year, is expected to win the vote easily.

He has gained cult-like adulation from supporters who see him as a saviour who can end the political turmoil dogging the country since an army-backed popular uprising ended Mubarak's three-decade rule in 2011.

Islamists, many of whom have been driven underground, view Sisi as the mastermind of a coup.

CRACKDOWN ON THE BROTHERHOOD

Sisi was seen as the most influential figure in an interim administration that has been cracking down hard on the Brotherhood and other opponents. Egypt's best organised political party until last year, the Brotherhood has since been banned and declared a terrorist organisation.

Sisi would be the latest in a line of Egyptian rulers drawn from the military that was only briefly broken during Mursi's year in office.

The only other contender, Sabahi, heads a political alliance called the Popular Current and was a member of parliament under Mubarak. He came third in the 2012 presidential vote after Mursi and ex-air force chief Ahmed Shafik.

Sabahi told Reuters in an interview last month that he doubted Sisi would bring democracy if elected, alleging Mubarak's former chief of military intelligence was responsible for human rights abuses.

Sabahi has said that the country has yet to cleanse a "rotten" system or create a new breed of politicians, and argues that Mubarak-era figures are making a comeback.

Human rights groups says authorities have stifled all forms of dissent.

Thousands of Islamists have been jailed and the Brotherhood's top leaders face trials. Secular activists, including ones who played a key role in the revolt that toppled Mubarak, have also been rounded up. There are no signs political tensions will ease anytime soon.

Egypt's next president will face an Islamist militant insurgency that has gained pace since Mursi's ouster. Hundreds of security forces have been killed in shooting and bombing attacks that have spread from the Sinai Peninsula to Cairo and other cities and towns.

The violence has scared away tourists, a pillar of the economy. (Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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