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Former Egyptian Lawmaker Pulls Out of Presidential Race

Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of Egypt's late leader Anwar Sadat and the leader of Reform and Development Party speaks during a press conference at the party headquarters, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018.

A former Egyptian lawmaker said Monday he will not run in the March presidential election, saying the political "climate" wasn't conducive to campaigning.

Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of Egypt's late leader Anwar Sadat, told reporters his decision was partially taken to protect his campaign workers from intimidation or arrest by authorities.

"We don't want people in the campaign to be hurt," he said.

He said he has no intention to contest a "lost battle" and cited emergency laws in force since last April and a 2013 ban on unauthorized demonstrations as further reasons for his decision.

"My decision not to run primarily has to do with the climate in which you don't feel there will be a genuine competition or equal opportunities," he said.

Sadat, an outspoken critic of the government, was thrown out of parliament last year amid allegations he had leaked official documents to foreign diplomats.

He is the second presidential hopeful to pull out of the election, which is virtually certain to be won by incumbent Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy.

Last week, former prime minister and career air force officer Ahmed Shafiq also pulled out of the race, saying he was not the "ideal" person to lead the country at this stage. He was harshly criticized by pro-government media after declaring his intention to run.

Shafiq finished a close second behind the Islamist Mohamed Morsi in the 2012 elections. The following year, el-Sissi led the military's ouster of Morsi, the country's first freely elected civilian president. El-Sissi was elected in 2014 after a landslide win.

Under the constitution, any would-be candidate must have formal "recommendations" from at least 20 lawmakers or 25,000 support signatures from voters, with a minimum of 1,000 each from 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces.

Most lawmakers have already endorsed el-Sissi, who has led a heavy crackdown since 2013 that has jailed thousands of opponents, mainly Islamists but also secular activists, including many of those involved in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Under el-Sissi's rule, street protests have been effectively banned, human rights groups have been placed under severe restrictions and many critics in the media have been silenced.

But the general-turned-president has also spent much of the past four years trying to revive the economy while fighting an increasingly emboldened insurgency by Islamic militants.

Sadat claimed his supporters were harassed and threatened by security agents as they processed paperwork to nominate him.

"We dream of ... an election where the winner is not known until the last moment," he said.

Another hopeful, rights lawyer Khaled Ali, has also claimed the climate is biased in favor of el-Sissi. Ali became known when he won a court case that annulled Egypt's transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The government went ahead with the transfer after the agreement was hurriedly ratified by parliament.

Ali was convicted and sentenced to three months in prison in September for allegedly making an obscene gesture while celebrating the court's ruling last January. He is appealing the verdict, but if his conviction is upheld he will not be eligible to run.