An Egyption retired General and former chief of staff Sami Anan has been arrested by the authorities after showing intention to run for the presidency this year.
General Anan has been denied permission to run in presidential elections in March.
The Guardian says the retired cgief of staff is accused of incitement against military after declaring intention to run in March poll.
Anan was the last challenger seen as a potential threat to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, himself a former military chief, whose re-election is considered almost certain.
The arrest of Anan, a former member of Egypt’s supreme military council for armed forces (Scaf), appears to be a calculated move to push him out of the race. Earlier a declaration by the military accused him of election violations and said he would be “summoned for interrogation in front of specialised personnel”.
Mahmoud Refaat, a spokesman for Anan’s campaign abroad, said: “I hold the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi entirely responsible for his wellbeing. Yesterday 30 members of campaign were also arrested as well as some of their family members. It’s not known where any of them are being held.”
Anan is the second former high-ranking official to be prevented from running against Sisi, who declared he would run for a second term late last week.
The president has led a crackdown on dissidents while attempting to enact tough economic reforms tied to a $12bn (£8.6bn) International Monetary Fund loan.
Anan previously stated he wished to save Egypt from “wrong policies”, and was seen as a favourite to challenge Sisi on the campaign trail, even attracting support from members of the banned Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. He later made the controversial choice to appoint the country’s former top auditor Hisham Geneina as one of his two running mates. Geneina was sentenced to a year in prison in 2016 after accusing the Egyptian government of rampant corruption costing the country billions of dollars.
Anan headed the Scaf from 2005, including during a period of military rule after the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. He was fired in 2012 by the then president Mohamed Morsi, coinciding with Sisi’s appointment as defence minister. Morsi was toppled in a 2013 military coup which put Sisi in power. Sisi then won 97% of the vote in elections in 2014.
The Egyptian military general command said in a statement on Tuesday that it could not “turn a blind eye to the legal violations” by Anan. It said he would be interrogated on charges of running for election without prior approval from the military, forging documents stating that he had left the military and “inciting against the armed forces”.
Refaat said: “The declaration made by the army today was made by Sisi’s office, not by the real army. It’s pure lies … Mr Anan was the strongest candidate and the true first choice of Egyptians, so the regime arrested him.”
Anan’s arrest follows the aborted candidacy of the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, previously the primary challenger to Sisi. Shafiq was deported from the United Arab Emirates after declaring his intention to run, and held incommunicado for 24 hours. He withdrew from the race at the beginning of January, saying that he was not “the ideal person to lead the state’s affairs”.
Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt’s former president, declined to run last week, citing a political environment hostile to “genuine competition” and fearing attacks on his supporters.
Khaled Ali, a leftist lawyer, has said he still intends to compete, despite an ongoing court case accusing him of making an obscene gesture during celebrations outside a Cairo court. Ali will hear on 7 March, two weeks before the election, whether his appeal has been accepted and he is able to compete.
Another potential contender is Mortada Mansour, a rightwing firebrand MP, who has until 29 January to obtain the 25,000 nominations from 15 governorates necessary to get on the ballot.
The Sadat, Ali and Anan campaigns have said they routinely experienced interference or intimidation. Anan and Sadat’s teams said their supporters faced problems at local offices when attempting to register the pledges needed for candidates to get on the ballot.