Egypt not ready for democracy, says strongman Sisi
Egypt's president has said his country is not ready for democracy ahead of next week's elections, in which he is certain to win a second term.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a lengthy interview aired on local television on Tuesday that he was not to blame for a string of would-be candidates being sidelined ahead of the vote.
"There are some people saying: 'we know he is going to win, we want someone to be standing against him'... and there is nothing wrong with that," Sisi said.
"I just want to tell these people one thing; you are speaking about something that is not my fault,"
"I swear to God, I wish there were ten [candidates] standing against me of the best people and you could choose as you like from us. But we are still not ready yet," Sisi added.
Most of Sisi's rivals in the presidential election have been sidelined or withdrawn under pressure or were arrested, leaving an obscure sole candidate as the only contender.
The most credible, former military chief of staff Sami Anan, was detained in January shortly after announcing his candidacy. The military says he was still enlisted and had no right to run.
Former army general and prime minister Ahmed Shafiq withdrew his candidacy after meeting with state officials on his return from exile in the United Arab Emirates.
In November, military candidate Colonel Ahmed Konsowa found himself in prison soon after announcing he would run.
Leftist human rights lawer Khaled Ali pulled out in January, citing harassment of his supporters and concerns over the safety of his volunteers.
Another candidate Mohamed Anwar Sadat - nephew of the former president of the same name - similarly withdrew, saying the climate was not right for free elections.
Moussa Mostafa Moussa, an ardent Sisi loyalist, entered the race just as it appeared Sisi would embarrassingly have to stand alone in a throwback to referendums held by autocrats.
Moussa, who insists he is serious challenger, is the only other candidate in the election, which is taking place March 26-28.
An Egyptian judicial source told The New Arab that voter turnout among Egyptian expatriates over the weekend was lacklustre.
Sisi, a former defence minister, came to power after ousting his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against the Muslim Brotherhood member.
Sisi won a landslide victory in an election a year later and has since led a brutal crackdown on dissent.