Tantawi shows out hesitation of the secular opposition in Egypt to challenge Sisi in the presidential elections


The former parliamentarian and former president of the Karama (The Dignity) Party, Ahmed Tantawi, announced days ago his intention to return to Egypt next May to “present the democratic civilian alternative Egypt needs,” referring to the prospect of running in the next presidential election scheduled for 2024. The news raised many concerns about the reaction of the Egyptian regime, known for its intolerance of opposition, especially since Tantawi left the country last year after being subjected to security harassment.

This comes amid growing conversations about the upcoming presidential election, some names being put forward for Sisi’s competition. At the same time, the Egyptian opposition is divided between those who see the need to unite ranks and vigorously compete and those who see the optimal solution as a complete boycott, pointing to the experience of the previous 2018 presidential election.

Who is Tantawi?

Ahmed al-Tantawi (43 years old) emerged after his success in the parliamentary elections in 2015, becoming one of the most prominent opposition lawmakers – small numbers and resourcefulness – in the House of Representatives. He was known for his biting criticism of the government, and his reluctance to expose President el-Sisi to criticism, standing out as a prominent protester to the Maritime Boundary Agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, under which the strategic islands of Tiran and Sanafir were ceded. Tantawi lost his seat in Parliament during the 2020 election, marred by corruption and accusations of fraud to eliminate annoying deputies. Al-Tantawi asserted that his election campaign had a “documented result that breaks with his first ranking in the first round and also in the runoff”, challenging the competent authorities to provide evidence to the contrary.

After losing in the parliamentary elections, al-Tantawi announced the continuation of political action through the opposition Karama Nasserist Party. In December 2020, the party quickly selected him as its president. The experience was not long, following Sisi’s call, in April 2022, for dialogue with the opposition in exchange for the release of some political detainees, led to disagreement between Tantawi and leaders in his party because of his refusal to truce power and his tendency to sharply criticize it, considering the call for national dialogue as a manoeuvre to justify continued repression. After the controversy escalated, and the “Karama Party” leaders received security messages requesting that Tantawi be removed from the scene to continue the “national dialogue”, Tantawi resigned from the party’s presidency and left for Lebanon amid talks about his fear of being subjected to repression.

Hesitating opposition

Days ago, Tantawi announced a return to Egypt on May 6 to “present the democratic civilian alternative that Egypt needs”, which indicated his intention to stand for the presidential elections that remain for about a year. The main opponent alliance inside Egypt, the Civil Democratic Movement, has avoided direct talk on possible support for Tantawi once he is running for the presidential election. “We have not discussed in the party the issue of support for Tantawi if he is running in the presidential election yet,” said the Secretary-General of Karama Party, Mohamed Bayomi. The former parliamentarian remains a party member and enjoys great popularity within and outside it. “What makes his support in the event of his candidacy foreseeable, bearing in mind that it must be discussed with the other parties of the Civil Democratic Movement” a united front comprising several opposition public parties and figures. While Akram Ismail, responsible for the political file in the Bread and Freedom Party (under formation), said that his party welcomes the candidacy of any opposition member of the democratic forces in the presidential elections but supports “bread and freedom” for Tantawi or others will only take place after an internal discussion, and a broader discussion with the rest of the civil and democratic parties.

On the other hand, Farid Zahran, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, considered that what Tantawi published did not necessarily confirm his intention to run for the presidency, “but in any case, Tantawi ran his right if he intended to do so, but the party will decide which candidate it supports for the presidency based on an internal debate and on another discussion with the parties of the civil movement, which has not happened yet. So far, we see that there is a strong current within the Egyptian opposition, and in particular, the civil democratic movement, that refuses to participate in the upcoming presidential elections except after obtaining guarantees that they will be held with real competition and integrity, not like in the 2018 elections, when the prominent potential candidate, Lieutenant General Sami Anan, the former chief of staff of the Egyptian army, was arrested and imprisoned. Also, another leading potential candidate, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shafiq, the former prime minister, was arrested and placed under house arrest.