Campaigning for Egypt’s presidential election has opened as the country gears up for its first elections since Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military last July.
Former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi are contesting the May 26-27 presidential poll, which is widely expected to see Sisi ascend to power.
Supporters of Sisi launched his election campaign on Saturday on social networking sites, with the 59-year-old using Twitter to say “stability, security and hope for Egypt will be achieved through our will and capabilities.”
The policies that were present under Mubarak are the same policies present now
He later attended an interview with several local journalists, in which he wept at one point, the state-owned Ahram newspaper reported on its website.
“Sisi wept when he spoke about the messages he receives from the poor,” the newspaper reported.
“I get messages from people who can’t afford to eat, they say we don’t eat but we accept that for your sake,” it quoted Sisi as saying.
Posters across Cairo have presented him as a strongman in “the fight against terror” referring to the wave of terror attacks that followed Morsi’s ouster, but his opponents fear that might come at the cost of freedoms sought in the pro-democracy uprising three years ago.
Sisi’s only rival, Hamdeen Sabbahi, has emerged as an opposition figure claiming to represent the ideals of the 2011 uprising that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“The policies that were present under Mubarak are the same policies present now” under the military-installed regime, Sabbahi told a campaign rally in the southern city of Assiut.
“Our goal is to gain the people’s trust to change the policies of corruption and tyranny and poverty,” he said in remarks broadcast live on television.
Sabbahi, who came third in the 2012 election which Morsi won, is seen as a long shot in the face of a groundswell of support for Sisi, with many Egyptians yearning for a return to stability after three years of demonstrations, civil unrest and economic stagnation.
Morsi supporters jailed
Also on Saturday, a Cairo court sentenced 102 Morsi supporters to 10 years in prison for protest violence.
The ruling is linked to deadly clashes between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and security forces in the wake of Morsi’s overthrow last July.
The prosecutors charged the defendants with gathering illegally with intent to inflict material and moral harm to others and public property, which led to one death.
Another court sentenced five Morsi supporters to five years in jail for rioting during the constitutional referendum in January, judicial sources said.
Earlier this week an Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death, intensifying the crackdown and drawing Western criticism.
Egypt has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, but the group insists it is committed to peaceful activism.