Egypt’s president submits nominations after rival’s arrest

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi speaking at a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Cairo. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018

Egypt’s president submits nominations after rival’s arrest

CAIRO: Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi submitted his nomination documents on Wednesday, a day after a potentially serious challenger in the March vote was arrested by the military.
El-Sisi is virtually certain to win a second four-year term in the March 26-28 vote, as two would-be challengers have withdrawn from the race and another two have been arrested. But his supporters have been actively gathering signatures from voters in an attempt to show he has popular support.
Would-be candidates must secure 25,000 “recommendations” from voters or the support of 20 lawmakers to be eligible to run. El-Sisi already has the support of more than 500 of parliament’s 596 lawmakers. But on Wednesday his official Facebook page posted images of workers unloading boxes of recommendations from a van, each bearing the president’s image and the slogan “Long live Egypt!“
On Tuesday, the military arrested former chief of staff Sami Annan over a slate of serious allegations, all but ending his hopes of running in the election and ensuring that el-Sisi, a former general, will not face off against another member of the country’s powerful military establishment.
Amnesty International said the arrest of Annan amounted to an attack on rights to public participation and freedom of expression.
“It is clear that the Egyptian authorities are hell-bent on arresting and harassing anyone who stands against President el-Sisi,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director. “This is consistent with the Egyptian government’s ongoing efforts to crush dissent and consolidate power by attacking civil society, activists and human rights defenders in the country.”
Annan’s arrest leaves prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali as the only serious would-be candidate to challenge el-Sisi. But Ali’s candidacy is also at risk because he was convicted in September of making an obscene hand gesture in public. If that ruling is upheld on appeal, he will be ineligible. The next appeal hearing is scheduled for March 7, less than three weeks before the vote.
Two other presidential hopefuls have withdrawn.
Former prime minister and air force Gen. Ahmed Shafiq, who finished a close second in Egypt’s first free election in 2012, said he did not think he was the “ideal” man to lead the nation after days of harsh criticism by pro-el-Sisi media.
Another would-be candidate was former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the Egyptian leader who was assassinated in 1981. He said the country’s political “climate” was not conducive to campaigning and because he feared for the safety of his supporters.
Another hopeful, Army Col. Ahmed Konsowa, was court martialed and sentenced to six years in prison for breaching military regulations prohibiting political activism.
In his first public comments since Annan’s arrest, el-Sisi on Wednesday reiterated vague warnings that Egypt is the target of a foreign conspiracy.
“The evil people are still trying to achieve their goal and all eyes are on Egypt, but no one will hurt Egypt,” he said at a ceremony marking Police Day.
“We are talking construction, building and development. We don’t want anyone to lead us astray with rhetoric that we don’t need,” he said, in what may have been a reference to Annan’s video message announcing he would run.
In the video, Annan spoke of deteriorating living standards and what he called the “erosion” of the state’s capabilities, which he blamed it on the military’s growing involvement in the economy and politics. “Wise” policies were needed to bring in the civilian sector, but that required respect for the constitution and guarantees of freedoms, added Annan.
He also took the unusual step of appealing to the military and state institutions to remain neutral in the election, saying they should not be biased in favor of el-Sisi.
El-Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Muhammad Mursi, whose year in power proved divisive. The government has since waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, silencing nearly all its critics.
Except for Mursi and interim president Adly Mansour, who succeeded him in 2013, all of Egypt’s presidents since the establishment of the republic in the early 1950s have come from the military, and the security apparatus is believed to wield great power behind the scenes.


Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

Iranian-backed militants ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, as Yemen’s legitimage government tightens security measures. (Reuters)
Updated 20 min 54 sec ago

Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

  • Security measures intensified around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran arms supply to rebels

AL-MUKALLA: The Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s internationally recognized government have intensified security measures around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran from smuggling arms to Houthis in Yemen.

Over the last couple of months, hundreds of Yemeni coast guard soldiers have been deployed off the Yemeni coasts on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, as the coalition tightens security checks at the Shihen border crossing in the western province of Mahra.
Dozens of army and security checkpoints have also stepped up the inspection of vehicles that cross into Houthi-controlled territories in northern Yemen. Local army officers and experts say those measures have yielded considerable results, as several arms shipments have been intercepted before reaching the Houthis.

Yemen alert
In the Red Sea, local officers said Yemeni troops had consolidated their presence on the island of Perim near Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and off the coasts of the provinces of Hodeida and Taiz.
The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen, who were urged to report any suspected movements of boats in the Red Sea.
“Local fishermen are now helping us monitor the sea. They alert us about any ship or a boat suspected of carrying weapons to Houthis,” a coast guard officer in the Red Sea Khokha district told Arab News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, adding that coast guard forces had increased sea patrols around Zuqar and Perim Islands with the same aim.
The two islands are located at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, where arms shipments from Iran are thought to pass through.
The same officer said that three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.
Last week, the commander of the Yemeni coast guard in the western coast announced seizing a ship carrying 20 tons of urea fertilizer. The material can be used for making bombs.
The investigation with the three Yemeni fishermen captured on the ship showed that they received cargo from unidentified smugglers near the Somali port city of Zeila and were asked to give it to the Houthis for several thousand Saudi riyals.
“A big smuggling network is involved,” the officer who learned about the investigation said.
“We are confident that the Iranian smugglers do not directly hand over shipments to the Yemenis. All directions come from big smugglers in Yemen. We have learnt that Iranian smugglers pretending to be fishermen are active near Somalia.”

FASTFACTS

• The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen.

• Three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis ‘had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.’

• Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.

In the southeastern province of Hadramout, dozens of soldiers have been deployed across a vast and porous coastline at suspected entry points for arms and drugs.
Maj. Gen. Faraj Salmeen Al-Bahsani, the governor of Hadramout, said the deployment was the last phase of a plan aimed at securing the province’s coasts.
“The coalition has asked us to secure areas between Shiher and Mahra to prevent smuggling,” he told Arab News. “We have discovered several vehicles carrying weapons to the Houthis.”

Starting from scratch
Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.
When the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in support of Yemen’s government, monitoring the country’s sea waters was left to the coalition’s navy. At the same time, the coalition had to rebuild the coast guard by training troops inside and outside Yemen, building facilities and equipping the forces with boats that would enable them to take on the mission.
The governor of Hadramout said that the coast guard branch in the large province was now working without much help as the coalition had furnished them with the equipment needed for the missions.
“We have stood on our feet thanks to great help from the coalition. They provided us with radar and boats,” Al-Bahsani added.

Smuggling focal points
Yemeni experts believed that large shipments of Iranian weapons to the Houthis went through a few seaports that were under rebel control in the western province of Hodeida.
“It is true that the Houthis might bring in light devices and weapons on land through government-controlled areas. But rockets, drones and heavy weapons come through Hodeida,” Yasser Al Yafae, a political analyst, told Arab News.
Hodeida city, which hosts Yemen’s biggest seaport, was the target of a major military offensive that managed to liberate several seaports on the Red Sea and reach the city’s outskirts.
The offensive was canceled in late 2018 under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement that obliged the coalition-backed Yemeni forces to stop hostilities in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida’s seaport. Two years later, the Houthis have neither pulled out of the seaports nor allowed inspection on ships docked.
“The inauspicious Stockholm Agreement allowed Houthis to use Hodeida seaports to smuggle, weapons, weapons and drones,” Yahya Abu Hatem, a Yemeni military expert, told Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath on Friday.