An Egyptian politician who promises to run in the country’s presidential election next year returned to Egypt on Thursday, days after announcing that his relatives had been detained.
Ahmed Altantawy, who left the country for Lebanon last August, confirmed his arrival in Egypt on his official Facebook page on Thursday night.
“I arrived today in my homeland, from which I have been absent for nine months,” wrote Altantawy. “I ask your permission for five days to spend with my family who need me and I need them.”
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Next year’s presidential election is widely expected to be a foregone conclusion in favor of incumbent President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, who has overseen a crackdown on political opposition.
Since coming to power in 2013, el-Sissi’s government has detained thousands of suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporters, but also large numbers of secular activists. Human Rights Watch says the North African country has held up to 60,000 political prisoners, although el-Sissi and other Egyptian politicians have rejected that claim.
Altantawy, a former journalist who later served as a lawmaker in Egypt’s predominantly pro-government legislature until 2020, announced his presidential candidacy in a video in March. The politician said he wanted to offer a democratic alternative to el-Sissi’s rule, describing the treatment of political opponents as illegal and unfair.
The former parliamentarian had promised to return to Egypt last Saturday. However, he postponed his return on Friday after announcing that two of his uncles, among other supporters, had recently been detained. The whereabouts and condition of the alleged detainees remain unknown.
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After spending time with his family, Altantawy said he will begin a series of consultations and meetings.
For years, human rights groups and former prisoners have accused the Egyptian government of using brutal tactics to quell dissent, such as enforced disappearances, torture and long-term detention without trial.
The Egyptian government’s rights record came under intense scrutiny last year as an international climate summit was held in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. One of the country’s most prominent detainees, human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fatah, went on a long hunger strike that purposefully coincided with the duration of the conference to draw attention to his detention.
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In recent years, Egypt has sought to rectify its image. El-Sissi’s government tried to launch what it called a “national dialogue” with well-known figures in society, although few well-known dissidents took part.