CAIRO (AP) ― Egypt’s former military chief on Monday took the final formal step to run in next month’s presidential election, submitting to the election commission eight times the number of signatures required, his campaign said in a statement.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a retired field marshal, did not deliver the 200,000 signatures in person. His campaign said a legal adviser, Mohammed Bahaa Abou Shaqah, delivered them.
Photos released by the campaign and footage aired on local TV networks showed security guards delivering white boxes with an image of the retired soldier plastered on the side along with the name of the province from which it said the signatures were obtained.
Officials from the election commission could not be reached to confirm the campaign’s statement.
It is mandatory for any presidential hopeful to secure 25,000 signatures from at least 15 of the nation’s 27 provinces in order to run in the May 26-27 vote. El-Sissi, who led the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi last July, was the first hopeful to submit the signatures.
El-Sissi’s likely chief rival in the election is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished a strong third in the first round of the last presidential election, in June 2012. Morsi won the race in a runoff against second-placed Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
El-Sissi’s campaign says more signatures continue to pour into its Cairo headquarters, something it described as a “unique example of support and national backing” for the 59-year-old career soldier.
The U.S.- and British-trained el-Sissi is the most likely winner of next month’s vote. He has enjoyed nationwide support in the nine months since he ousted Morsi. Many Egyptians see him as a potential savior, delivering the nation of some 90 million people from its seemingly countless woes.
El-Sissi, however, has yet to announce an election program that clearly spells out what he intends to do to revive the economy, restore security and save the vital tourism sector from its slump.
The two-day balloting is the second phase in a political blueprint announced by el-Sissi the day he ousted Morsi. The first was the drafting and adoption by referendum in January of a new constitution. The presidential ballot will be followed by a parliamentary election later this year.
On Monday, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the European Union would be sending an electoral observation mission for the May 26-27 vote.
“My big message to Egypt is and always was the same: this is a strong partnership; we want the people of Egypt to move forward, we do want these elections to herald the beginning of the next phase of life in Egypt,” she told reporters in Luxembourg about her visit last week to Cairo.
She added however that she had expressed her concern in Egypt about a recent court ruling that sentenced more than 500 Morsi supporters to death, and the jailing of activists and journalists.
Egyptian authorities say the sentence is likely to be overturned on appeal.
The run-up to the election has been marred by continuing street protests by Morsi supporters, who clash nearly daily with security forces. Egyptian troops and police, meanwhile, continue to battle Islamic militants in the strategic northern part of the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere.
A Cairo court on Monday issued a ruling declaring the main militant group fighting government forces in Sinai and elsewhere as a terrorist organization, according to judicial officials. The court ruling must be adopted by the government, they said.
The al-Qaida-inspired group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Arabic for Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for the biggest attacks of recent months, including an assassination attempt on the Interior Minister and bombings of the security headquarters in Cairo and the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.
The government has already declared Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.