CAIRO -- A prominent Egyptian rights lawyer said Monday he will run for president in next year's elections. The move is unlikely to seriously challenge the campaign of the incumbent general-turned-president but will test his popularity at a time of deep economic hardships and a relentless crackdown on dissent and Islamic militants.
Khaled Ali made the announced to a packed news conference at the headquarters of the opposition al-Dustour party, a small venue but one of the few the organizers were able to secure, and felt was safe, to host the event. They say police raided a printing house they had used to prepare materials and that they faced intimidation for daring to oppose the president's leadership.
"Egypt is in crisis after four years of rule by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi," Ali said, referring to the president, "We have the right to have democratic elections... (but) we are expecting a crackdown and repression."
Ali has been a key figure among the small but vibrant core of mostly young pro-democracy and secular activists known loosely as "the revolutionaries." They were the main force behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Briefly celebrated after Mubarak's fall, they failed to forge a cohesive political force.
"We are working with other democratic parties to ensure real guarantees for this battle," Ali said.
Ali said his campaign will involve reviewing all of el-Sissi's much-trumpeted mega-projects to assess their impact on Egyptian citizens and the economy, release people held in detention without charges, and pardon those jailed on charges related to a law effectively banning all protests. He also says he will implement a court ruling to maintain possession of two Red Sea islands el-Sissi handed over to Saudi Arabia.
Ali led the legal suit last year that succeeded in blocking the government's plans to hand over the two strategic islands, Tiran and Sanafir. The ruling, upheld on appeal in January, gave Ali some celebrity as a defender of the country's territorial integrity among the many who opposed the handover.
Parliament however is packed with el-Sissi supporters and approved the agreement before he ratified it. Ali has vowed not to give up the fight.
His candidacy faces major hurdles, however, the most pressing being a potential obscenity conviction that would make him ineligible if his appeal is rejected. The next hearing over the charges, widely seen as politically motivated to block his run, is on Nov. 8.
Ali said he is awaiting the court's ruling and trusts it will find him innocent.