CAIRO — An Egyptian court sentenced 102 alleged Islamists to 10 year in prison Saturday for rioting as campaigning began for the country's upcoming May presidential election.
The case in Cairo is one of several mass trials held in Egypt amid a crackdown against Islamists and supporters of toppled President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group. Retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 overthrow of Morsi, is widely expected to win the coming May 26-27 presidential election on a wave of nationalist fervor sweeping Egypt.
His only opponent, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, kicked off his campaign Saturday from the southern city of Assiut, promising to "achieve democracy, development and freedom for each Egyptian." Sabahi told journalists that he chose southern Egypt because he hopes to eliminate poverty and unemployment, as well as end previous policies that concentrated development on the capital and marginalized the south, where Islamists hold sway.
Later in the day, Sabahi vowed he would keep the military out of politics if he became president. He also vowed to abolish a divisive law that bans protests not approved by police, a measure that's seen activists arrested and imprisoned.
"It is not appropriate to overburden (the military) or to get in middle of political conflict," Sabahi said.
El-Sissi launched his election campaign on Twitter after midnight with the hashtag "Long Live Egypt." Later on the day, his campaign posted its first video clip for el-Sissi that appeared to have been taken during an interview with local television networks that's scheduled to be aired Monday.
El-Sissi posters in Cairo present him as a strongman in "the fight against terror" — referring to the wave of Islamic militant attacks that followed Morsi's ouster.
Meanwhile, a judge sentenced the 102 Islamists to prison on charges of violently rioting in a Cairo neighborhood and possession of weapons. Egypt's state news agency said the ruling puts the defendants under police surveillance for a period of five years when their prison sentences end. Two other defendants were sentenced to seven years in the case.
The prosecutors charged the defendants with gathering illegally with intent to inflict material and moral harm to others and public property, which led to one death.