CAIRO — It’s not as if Egypt's presidential race is a crowded one. But firebrand pro-army lawyer Mortada Mansour, who declared his candidacy over the weekend, is denying — vehemently — that he is only running in order to stage proxy attacks on former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Sisi’s main opponent.
Until Mansour jumped into the race, Sisi, who is heavily favored to win, had only one declared challenger, liberal politician Hamdeen Sabahi. That has led many to suggest that Mansour’s main function as a candidate will be to smear Sabahi, allowing the former army chief to remain above the fray.
Not so, said Mansour.
"I’m not [running] just for decoration, and whoever says so must be high on drugs,” the candidate, known for his angry public outbursts, told Al Hayah television on Monday. “I’ve never even met Sisi — I’ve only seen him on TV.”
A victory for Sisi in the May 26-27 would cement the power the career military man has wielded since leading a popularly supported coup nine months ago against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. If no one emerges victorious in the first round, a second would be held, and the third-place finisher could throw his support to one of the two finalists.
Mansour’s views, regarded by some as extreme, strike a chord with many conservative voters in Egypt. He has declared he would abrogate the Camp David accords, Egypt’s landmark peace pact with Israel, and spurn U.S. aid, of which Egypt is the second-largest recipient.
He enthusiastically backs the draconian law-and-order stance struck by the current interim government. Thousands of government opponents, mainly Morsi’s backers, are in jail, along with a handful of secular critics.
A vocal supporter of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, Mansour was implicated in one of the most notorious incidents of the 2011 uprising against the longtime dictator. Alongside 24 others, he was accused of plotting a camel-and-horseback charge into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was packed with anti-Mubarak demonstrators. He was acquitted in 2012.
The 61-year-old lawyer was recently reelected as chairman of Egypt's second-biggest sports club, Zamalek, which fields a variety of popular teams.
Mansour kicked off his campaign with an inflammatory weekend news conference at which he said atheists belonged in “toilets,” alcohol sales should be halted and that Egypt’s moral values needed upholding. Taking a page from Turkey’s prime minister, he said social media sites like Facebook and Twitter should be banned.
Mansour tried to run in 2012’s presidential elections, which were won by Morsi, but was disqualified by election authorities. He had served a one-year jail term after being found guilty of assaulting the former chief of Egypt’s State Council, a judiciary entity.
His current candidacy has not yet been officially sanctioned. The main election body is to announce its list of accepted candidates on May 2.
Hassan is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.