Serious challengers in doubt
However, a court conviction in September for making an obscene hand gesture when he won a legal case resulted in him receiving a three-month suspended jail sentence. Ali, 45, is appealing the sentence, but if it is upheld he will be barred by law from running.
Before announcing on Sunday that he would not in fact run for president, Ahmed Shafiq was considered another and even more serious political threat to Sisi. The former civil aviation minister was appointed prime minister by then-President Hosni Mubarak to ensure calm on the streets when the 2011 uprising began. In 2012, Shafiq lost to the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate Mohammed Morsi in a presidential run-off, garnering 48 per cent of the vote. Shafiq is said to have close ties to rich oligarchs connected to Mubarak's sons, Ala and Gamal, who are trying to regain their old power vis-a-vis Sisi.
Sisi does not want to face such a serious challenger in the presidential election. When Shafiq, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates, announced his candidacy, he was taken by allies of Sisi and put on a private jet to Egypt, his lawyer claims. Back in Egypt, Shafiq declared he would reconsider running for president. Then came the unequivocal decision on Sunday. Speaking via Twitter, he said: "After assessing the situation in Egypt following my return from the United Arab Emirates, I see I will not be the ideal person to lead the affairs of the state in the coming period. So, I decided not to run in the upcoming elections of 2018."
Sisi's European allies could well give him the edge over his domestic challengers. In late October, he visited French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris and struck an arms deal worth some €6 billion, agreeing to buy French fighter jets and surveillance software.
In 2017 alone, Berlin sold arms worth roughly half a billion euros to Egypt – a record amount. In August, Germany and Egypt also signed a deal to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. The relationship between both governments is evidently good. So good in fact that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Egyptian interlocutors they had "an impressive president" during a visit to Cairo in April 2016.
Human rights organisations paint an entirely different picture, however. Since coming to power in a bloody coup in July 2013, Sisi is said to have locked up some 60,000 individuals for political reasons. And in the last two years alone, 100 prisoners are said to have been put to death, while 1,700 individuals have disappeared.
© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2018