CAIRO - Egypt's military on Tuesday arrested former military chief of staff and presidential hopeful Sami Annan, leveling an array of serious allegations against him in what appears to be a calculated move by the armed forces and the incumbent to push him out of the race.
With his bid to win the presidency now all but dead, Annan becomes the latest presidential hopeful to be driven out of the race in an election virtually certain to be won by another graduate of Egypt's powerful military establishment, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
A security official with first-hand knowledge of the Annan affair said the ex-general was arrested by the military simultaneously with the release to the official media of an armed forces' statement listing the allegations facing him.
The statement said Annan would be questioned on charges of forging documents relevant to the formal end of his active service, breaching army regulations by declaring his intention to run without first clearing it with the military and inciting against the armed forces.
His arrest was reported by two top aides. One, Mustapha al-Shall, who broke the news to The Associated Press but had no details. Another one, Mahmoud Refaat, reported the arrest on his Twitter account, but again gave no details.
With Annan out of the race and possibly facing a court martial, only one serious presidential hopeful is left in the field: Prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali, whose own candidacy could be at risk if his September conviction of making an obscene hand gesture in public is upheld on appeal, rendering him ineligible.
Annan, who was chief of staff of the military until 2012, only had an outside chance against el-Sissi, but his participation would have lit up a race whose outcome is virtually a foregone conclusion.
The election is scheduled for March 26-28, with runoffs the following month, if needed.
The move by the military did not come as a complete surprise given that the powerful military establishment would have loathed seeing two of its graduates slug it out in an election contest, regardless of the overwhelming odds in favor of el-Sissi.
Two other presidential hopefuls have been forced to quit the race.
Former prime minister and air force general Ahmed Shafiq said he did not think he was the "ideal" man to lead the nation after days of harsh criticism, some personal, by the pro-el-Sissi media. Shafiq finished a close second in a 2012 election and his candidacy would have also livened up the 2018 race.
Another one is former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat. He said he quit the race partially because he feared for the safety of his supporters. Sadat is a nephew of Egypt's late leader Anwar Sadat.