CAIRO A moderate Islamist who came fourth in Egypt's 2012 presidential election won by the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, accused the army-backed authorities on Sunday of creating a "republic of fear".
Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, 62, one of the few Islamists left in public life after a crackdown on the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies after Mursi was ousted by the army, said Egypt was not on a path to democracy as the government says.
"Our conscience does not let us participate in an operation to deceive the Egyptian people and act like there are elections when there are not," Abol Fotouh said, confirming his decision not to run for president this year.
Although he has not yet confirmed he will run, army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win after the army said it would back him. He has wide support among many Egyptians who were relieved to see an end to Mursi's rule, but is reviled by Mursi sympathisers as the leader of a coup.
Sisi deposed Mursi on July 3 after mass protests against his rule. Supporters of Mursi's removal say it was a revolution.
"This is a republic of fear," Abol Fotouh told a news conference convened to declare his final decision on whether he would run in the election that could happen as soon as April.
BROKEN THE FEAR
Popular leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 election, on Saturday became the first politician to clearly state he would run.
The government says it has charted a course to democracy after Mursi's overthrow. Abol Fotouh said: "There is no democratic path in Egypt".
Abol Fotouh pointed to what he said were 21,000 jailed activists and said a hotel manager had turned down a request to host Sunday's news conference not because of instructions from the authorities but because of his own fears.
"Any Egyptian who wants to express his opinion is afraid that he will be harmed, detained, that his house will be stormed, or a case against him will be fabricated, or it will be said that 'you are insulting the judiciary'," he said.
Abol Fotouh was a senior member of the Brotherhood until 2011, when the movement expelled him after he decided to stage an independent bid for the presidency.
A doctor who was jailed under deposed President Hosni Mubarak, Abol Fotouh was fiercely critical of Mursi during his one-year presidency and called for early presidential elections before the army's decision to remove him on July 3.
Activists from Abol Fotouh's Strong Egypt party were detained while campaigning against a new constitution approved in a referendum in January.
"Egyptians will not live in this republic of fear after January 25," he said, referring to the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak's downfall. "The nations that have broken the fear barrier will not again surrender (to it)," he said.
(Editing by Michael Georgy and Robin Pomeroy)