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Egyptian opposition coalition criticises Sisi, weighs electoral challenge

FILE PHOTO: Arab League Summit, in Jeddah

CAIRO (Reuters) - A group of Egyptian politicians fired rare, pointed critiques at Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and said they were considering challenging him in upcoming elections, depending on the fate of jailed leader Hisham Kassem.

The Free Current Movement, or al-Tayar al-Hurr, was formed this summer from a collection of liberal opposition groups and figures who say their main issue is the country's deteriorating economy.

Kassem, the group's outspoken founder, was arrested on charges of slander and verbal assault last week and remains in jail until his trial begins on Sept. 2.

Members of his coalition described his arrest as politically motivated, and said they would decide on participation in elections based on what happened with his case, as well as guarantees of a free election.

While the coalition is not seen as posing a major threat to Sisi, who is expected to run for his third term in elections early next year following constitutional amendments, its pointed criticism of the government is rare.

"We need change. We need a new president, a new government, a new parliament if we want Egypt to return to the tide of modernity," said businessman and politician Akmal Kortam.

A sharp currency devaluation and record-high inflation have stirred grumblings among Egyptians, most recently spurred by power cuts.

Egypt has cracked down on political dissent under Sisi, who took power after leading the 2013 ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, arresting tens of thousands, including prominent challengers in past elections.

The government has sought to address freedom and human rights issues in recent years, including opening a national dialogue with civil society leaders and granting amnesty for some prominent prisoners.

Critics have dismissed the measures as cosmetic and say arrests have continued.

Sisi's rise to power was supported at the time by a wide swathe of Egyptian politicians, following turmoil after the 2011 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

"The president must ask himself, does he still have the popularity and approval that he had 6, 7, 8 years ago?" said head of the Reform and Development Party Mohamed Anwar Sadat.

"We have a big challenge in the coming months because people will definitely not bear another increase in prices or the exchange rate."

(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Bill Berkrot)