Six months into laying the groundwork for his presidential bid, Egyptian hopeful Mohamed Anwar Sadat hit a snag: he could not find a hotel prepared to hire him a space to launch his campaign.
"One said they were completely booked for a year … another told us they got instructions from security agencies not to hold a conference for this person," said Osama Badie, his media coordinator for the campaign.
Printers refused to print Sadat's manifesto, Badie said. He declined to name the three major Cairo hotels that had turned down the campaign and did not identify five printing firms that had declined to do business with them.
Those challenging President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in an election to be held in March describe a sweeping effort to kill off their campaigns before they begin, with media attacks on candidates, intimidation of supporters, and a nomination process stacked in favour of the former general.
Egypt's electoral commission declined to immediately comment on opposition concerns. The government press office did not immediately respond to questions about the candidates' assertions when contacted by Reuters by telephone and in writing.
The electoral commission has pledged to run the vote "according to principles of independence, transparency and objectivity".
Sisi announced late on Friday that he would run for a second term as president. The election is Egypt's third since the 2011 uprising that deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
Campaigning is due to begin on Jan. 20, but opposition organisers say their efforts to get their campaigns off the ground are being stifled.
Citing safety concerns for his campaign team, Sadat, 62, whose uncle, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated in 1981, abruptly dropped out of the race this week.
"It's a systematic campaign to kill off candidates. I call it a political assassination process," Badie told Reuters from Sadat's headquarters just after the withdrawal.
Former prime minister and air force commander Ahmed Shafik, seen as the most serious potential challenger to Sisi, also pulled out this month, saying he had spent too much time out of the country and was out of touch with Egyptian politics.
Shafik returned to Egypt from the United Arab Emirates in December after announcing his intention to run, and was met by widespread criticism from state-aligned media.
The 76-year-old narrowly lost a presidential election to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in 2012 before fleeing for the United Arab Emirates, where he had since lived.
"Even the limited margins of opposition and critique and freedoms that were allowed under Mubarak are not allowed right now. It's zero tolerance, 100 percent control," said Ashraf El Sherif, political science professor at the American University in Cairo, citing what he said was a crackdown on grassroots activists.
Report by Reuters.