Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi officially launched his bid for a second term in office on Wednesday, registering himself as a candidate for the March election, state news agency MENA said, a day after his main potential rival was arrested.

Sisi, who won election in a landslide in 2014 after leading the army in ousting Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi a year earlier, submitted documents to become the first candidate to register for the March 26-28 vote.

Any other candidates have only until Jan. 29 to register before a final list is announced on Feb. 20, according to election rules.

Sisi’s popularity has been damaged by austerity reforms, security problems and a crackdown on dissidents and political opponents, his critics say.

But his supporters counter that security measures are needed to stabilize the country rocked by a 2011 uprising and unrest that followed and he is expected to win re-election comfortable.

Candidates challenging Sisi have described sweeping efforts to kill off their campaigns before they begin, with media attacks, intimidation of supporters, and a nomination process stacked in favour of the former general.

In the last such move, authorities detained Sisi’s last serious rival, former military chief of staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan on Tuesday after the army accused him of breaking the law by running for office without permission. His campaign was halted in its tracks.

Anan’s son, Samir, said police had raided the family home late on Tuesday. “They took everything they found in his office … they stayed until about 1 am,” he said.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday this was a “brazen attack” on freedom of expression and political participation.

“Anan is among a growing number of candidates arrested or convicted on trumped up charges by the Egyptian authorities,” the London-based rights group said in a statement.

Egypt was “hell-bent” on arresting and harassing anyone who stood against Sisi, Amnesty said.

Source: National News Agency