The Egyptian presidential election is set to take place between the 26th and 28th of March. And with the deadline for eligible aspiring presidential candidates to register their candidacy now closed, it perhaps comes as a surprise that the incumbent President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will not stand uncontested.

El-Sisi, who assumed office in June 2014 after allegedly winning 96.1% of the vote, will be challenged by Mousa Moustafa Mousa, chairman of the secular el-Ghad Party.

On the face of the ballot paper, this appears to be a move in line with the calls of Egyptian protestors during the 2011 Arab Uprisings for government reforms and the introduction of fairly contested elections. But is everything as fair as it seems?

The arrest of two potential presidential candidates alongside the pressured withdrawal of several others suggests not.

Over the past two months, by removing any genuine opposition to the incumbent’s rule, el-Sisi and those loyal to him have done all they can to thwart the democratic process. In December 2017, a military court sentenced army colonel Ahmed Konsowa to six years in prison after he announced his plans to run against el-Sisi. Since then, the regime has continued its crackdown.

As well as pressuring former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik to withdraw from the presidential race, the regime has also arrested General Sami Anan, who is currently being held in a military prison for contesting the incumbent President. These moves prompted el-Sisi’s last real opponent, labour lawyer Khaled Ali, to withdraw his candidacy, stating he would not compete in an election ‘where the purpose was exhausted before it began’.

Clearly, the regime is not interested in fair elections or tolerating credible opposition. The message has so far been clear: el-Sisi is here, and the ex-military strongman is here to stay. But what, then, are we to make of Moustafa Mousa’s challenge to the President? Is Mousa a genuine threat to el-Sisi?

Beneath the face value of providing a second choice for Egyptians, Mousa’s candidacy is little more than a farce. His name will appear on the ballot paper in attempt to add legitimacy to the vote. Knowing that Egyptians would be reluctant to queue to vote for a single candidate, the regime has installed a puppet-like figure to stand against el-Sisi to persuade voters to take the election seriously.

It is unlikely, however, that Egyptians would be fooled into believing they are participating in a fair election. El-Ghad is an openly pro-government party, and Mousa himself is a particularly big fan of el-Sisi’s. One Twitter user proved this with a printscreen of a Facebook page belonging to Mousa which branded a Cover Photo openly supporting el-Sisi’s presidency.

Plainly, in March, we will not be seeing a true fully democratic election.

One question left to answer is why, after four years of repression and eliminating political competition, does Abdel Fattah el-Sisi now feel the need to bother portraying a façade of democracy in Egypt? Perhaps the election itself will reveal the answers.