Egypt will hold a presidential vote on December 10-12, election officials said Monday, at a time the Arab world's most populous country is mired in a painful economic crisis.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief in power for nearly a decade, has yet to formally announce his candidacy, but state-aligned media has already published messages of support from pro-government entities.
Sisi, 68, was first elected in 2014, the year after he led the ouster of late Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, and then won a 2018 vote in a landslide against one of his own supporters.
Only two other candidates have so far declared their intention to run this time, including opposition politician Ahmed al-Tantawi, who has for months denounced harassment by security forces.
The election had initially been expected in the spring of 2024.
Some experts have said it was moved forward to schedule it ahead of a possible switch to a flexible exchange rate that could exacerbate social tensions in the country of 105 million.
"The vote will be held on December 10, 11 and 12," said National Election Authority Chairman Judge Walid Hassan Hamza.
Hopefuls can apply from October, with the candidate list to be finalised by November 9. The campaign period runs until November 29 and the winner will be announced on December 18.
The upcoming election is already fraught with accusations of repression and harassment of other potential candidates.
At least 35 of Tantawi's supporters have been detained, rights groups say.
The former parliamentarian says his phone has been tapped since September 2021. The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has attributed the attack to the Egyptian government "with high confidence".
Farid Zahran, president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, has also announced his intention to run.
He has called for "guarantees" to ensure "democratic elections that could help choose the right candidate to lead Egypt out of the economic crisis caused by the ruling government".
"Opposition politician Hisham Kassem had also been a potential presidential candidate," his Free Current political coalition said last week.
But he is barred from running by a six-month prison sentence for defamation and contempt of officials.
"The elections were likely brought forward for reasons related to the economic situation," according to Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University.
Egypt has battled its worst-ever economic crisis since early last year.
The currency has lost half its value since March 2022 in a series of devaluations that have sent consumer prices spiralling in the import-dependent economy.
Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $3 billion loan for Egypt conditioned on "a permanent shift to a flexible exchange rate regime".
"The IMF agreement had certain conditions that Egypt has not fulfilled, chief among which was the full flotation of the pound," Sayyid told AFP, adding that this led to "two IMF visits being postponed this year".
The IMF has not issued its first review of the programme or released the second tranche of the loan, both of which were originally expected last March.
The government has kept the exchange rate pegged at around 31 Egyptian pounds to the dollar since January.
But prices have continued to skyrocket as a parallel exchange market surged amid a severe foreign currency shortage.
Annual inflation reached an all-time high for the third month in a row in August, hitting 39.7 percent.
Sisi's government has announced a series of social protection measures and raises to the minimum wage in attempts to cushion the economic blow.
"The flotation will have a devastating impact on the majority of Egyptians, so the decision came to bring the elections forward and implement the economic measures after," Sayyid said.