CAIRO (Reuters) - A political coalition including several high-profile Egyptians sharply criticized President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday for a speech in which he warned off anyone seeking to challenge his rule, amid growing calls for a boycott presidential elections.
Earlier this week Sisi said additional steps would be taken against anyone looking to upset Egypt's security and warned that the protests of seven years ago, which toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, would never happen again.
In a rare public rebuke of Sisi's own remarks, the Civil Democratic Movement called the speech an attempt "to spread fear among Egyptian voters" which "undermines ... the integrity of the electoral competition".
Former military commander Sisi was elected in 2014, a year after leading the army to the ousting of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi. He is expected to easily win a vote slated for March 26-28.
The Civil Democratic Movement includes several notable figures, including a former presidential contender as well as Hesham Genena, a former anti-corruption watchdog head who had been campaigning for former military chief of staff Sami Anan, Sisi's top opponent before he was arrested.
The statement follows growing calls to boycott the March vote after all major opposition campaigns withdrew citing intimidation. Anan himself was arrested and halted his presidential bid after the army accused him of breaking the law by running for office without permission.
Sisi now faces a single opponent, who is himself a Sisi supporter, in the March contest.
"Clearing the political space of candidates in the name of preserving security is unconstitutional and does not promote security," the statement said.
Sisi said in the speech that he may call on Egyptians to take to the streets to give him a "mandate" in the face of what he described as "villains," without specifying who he meant.
"We affirm that states are not run by mandates and the mobilization of supporters in orchestrated gatherings, but rather by constitutions and respect for freedoms," the statement said.
"Is this a mandate in order to uphold freedoms? Or to crush opposition? Or to violate the constitution?" it said.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Eric Knecht, Editing by William Maclean)