Egypt’s presidential elections are scheduled for March 26 to March 28. Only two months ahead of the elections, incumbent President Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that he would seek a second term in office. He made the announcement at a Jan. 19 conference he convened in Cairo to present his achievements as he marked the end of his first term in office. Al-Sisi urged Egyptians to vote en masse and elect the candidate they consider the most worthy.

Despite this rhetoric, in recent months the Al-Sisi regime has waged a persecution campaign against anyone who announced the intention of running in the upcoming elections. Candidates and potential candidates were exposed to threats, arrests and lawsuits meant to pressure them to renege.

Egypt’s former chief-of-staff, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, who announced that he would run against Al-Sisi, was arrested on charges of violating the military law that bans officers from running for office if they did not officially end their service and seek permission to run. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who also meant to run for president, succumbed to pressure to change his mind.

It appears that the steps taken against Anan and Shafiq prompted additional members of the opposition, such as attorney Khaled Ali and former Parliament member Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat, to change their minds about running as well.

The regime’s repressive measures against the potential candidates and against oppositionists were  supported by the Egyptian establishment media, which also criticized and slandered them, claiming that they have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to hostile elements outside Egypt, and that their activities incite against Egypt and are a betrayal of the country.

The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, addressed the topic in his latest annual report. On March 7, he expressed concern about the climate of fear in Egypt’s presidential cycle and about the pressure exerted on candidates to cause them to drop out of the race, including by means of arrests.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded with a condemnation, stating that Al-Hussein’s claims were based on false reports, and that all the measures taken against the candidates were legal and transparent. He urged Al-Hussein to stop attacking Egypt.

When it emerged that Al-Sisi was the sole candidate, the Egyptian establishment media reportedly began pressuring heads of political parties to put forward their candidacy, so as to create the appearance of open and democratic elections. One day before the official deadline, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, chairman of the Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, submitted his candidacy and was harshly criticized as a “puppet” candidate of the regime.

The full report can be read on the MEMRI website here.