Does Egypt's Hamdeen Sabahi stand a chance in elections?
Despite strong backing from youth and revolutionary groups, Sabahi's former supporters from 2012 are choosing to back front-runner Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
“If your wish is that I run for president, then I will abide by it,” said Hamdeen Sabahi addressing a group of revolutionary youths who cheered upon hearing his final decision:
“I, the citizen Hamdeen Sabahi, have decided to fight the battle.”
Sabahi had for a long time been hesitant to join the presidential race and had even declared his willingness to support army chief Abel Fattah al-Sisi if his electoral platform is in line with the goals of the revolution. However, after pressure from several youth and revolutionary groups, he has decided run.
The Revolution’s Candidate Campaign, whose goal is to support a presidential candidate who best represents the demands of the January 25 Revolution, played a major role in encouraging Sabahi to stay in the race, a fact that he himself mentions in the press conference in which he announced his intention to run for president.
“By the will of the youths, Hamdeen Sabahi is the revolution’s candidate,” read the campaign banners distributed across Egypt as soon as Sabahi announced his decision.
Sabahi rallies support
“Sabahi is the most suitable person for this stage,” said campaign coordinator Amr Badr. “He has no links to Mubarak’s regime or the Muslim Brotherhood and he is civilian and not from the military. Plus, he has a long history of struggle for freedom and he really believes in democracy.”
Badr added that Sabahi’s platform is one that prioritizes the poor and that is why millions voted for him in the previous 2012 presidential elections. Badr noted that neither Sisi nor Sami Anan, former chief of staff of the Egyptian army and a potential presidential candidate, will achieve the goals of the revolution.
“Both are an extension of the regimes of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. They will not meet the demands of the people.”
The campaign’s views were echoed by George Ishak, co-founder of the anti-Mubarak Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya).
“Hamdeen Sabahi is the one whose platform is in compliance with the goals of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions,” he said in the same press conference in which Sabahi announced his candidacy.
Talaat Fahmy, secretary general of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, says that Sabahi’s presidential bid will give civilian parties the opportunity to rally around a non-military candidate.
“This strengthens the democratic process and creates real competition between different parties,” he said, adding that the army should focus on maintaining national security.
Fahmy added that Sabahi’s strongest point is his “known support for the working class.”
Sabahi supporters back Sisi
However, not everyone is on board.
The presidential candidate has lost the backing of two of his formerly most ardent supporters who played a major role in his previous campaign—director Khaled Youssef and Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser, son of late president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Youssef, who has recently declared his support for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, argued that Sabahi’s announcement was not an official one since it had not yet been endorsed by the Egyptian Popular Current, which Sabahi chairs.
“The party’s board of trustees has to announce the candidacy in order for it to be official,” Youssef said in a TV interview. “Sabahi’s announcement was only an emotional response to pressure by youths who were present at the press conference.” That is why, Youssef explained, Sabahi noted that he has made “the personal decision” to run for president.
Even though the party later announced its official support for Sabahi, Youssef expressed his personal objection. “We have all agreed that for the four years that follow the June 30 revolution, we should not open the door for divisions and should, instead, focus on reconstructing the state and fighting terrorism,” he said. “This is not the time for political competition.”
Youssef stressed the necessity of supporting Sisi at this stage: “We need to back one single candidate so that we don’t jeopardize our unity and this candidate is Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.”
Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser said he saw Sabahi’s decision as a purely emotional one since it is clear that the Egyptian people want Sisi to be their leader.
“Sisi is the people’s hero because he responded to their demands on June 30,” he said in an interview.
In response to criticism about changing his stance, Abdel Nasser stressed that he did not abandon Sabahi as some claim, but that circumstances have changed.
“Sisi was not a presidential candidate back in 2012 and had he been, I would have voted for him,” he said. “But after June 30, he risked his life and defied the U.S. in order to side with the people. He is the most suitable man for this stage.”
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition bloc against the Muslim Brotherhood of which Sabahi’s Egyptian Popular Current is a co-founder and a leading member, has not officially announced who it will support.
However, initial statements by its leading members hint that backing Sabahi is quite unlikely.
Mohammad al-Orabi, former foreign minister and current chairman of the Congress Party, argued that Sabahi is not qualified to become president and will not be able to solve Egypt’s problems as far as foreign policy is concerned.
Orabi added that the front leaders had earlier agreed not to field a candidate and to only monitor the performance of the government.
Amr Ali, member of the Free Egyptians Party, another member in the front, said that Sabahi’s ideologies are different from the rest of the parties in the front. “The parties in the front are liberal while Sabahi adopts socialist ideologies,” he said. “Besides, most of the front’s parties are more inclined to backing Sisi.”
Hossam al-Kholy, assistant secretary general of al-Wafd Party, a member of the front, also cited ideological differences as the main reason for not preferring to support Sabahi.
Kholy objected to referring to Sabahi as “the revolution’s candidate.”
“Not everyone who had been to Tahrir Square would be a representative of the revolution,” he said. “Nobody has the right to
monopolize the revolution.”
Candidacy causes divisions
Sabahi’s intention to run for president caused a serious rift in the ranks of the Tamarod Movement, the group behind the signature collection campaign that triggered the June 30, 2013 protests and the subsequent ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
While Tamarod officially supports Sisi’s candidacy, several of its senior members declared their support for Sabahi. His fifty supporters from group the issued a statement explaining the reason for their decision.
“We the undersigned support freedom fighter Hamdeen Sabahi for his struggle against corruption throughout the regimes of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, for a political agenda that adheres to the goals of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions, and for his prioritization of social justice,” read the statement.
Tamarod co-founders Mohammad Abdel Aziz and Hassan Shahin were among the signatories. Their membership in the group was reportedly frozen following the move.
The group’s third co-founder Mahmoud Badr said Abdel Aziz and Shahin have the right to voice their opinion but as individuals, not representatives of the group.
“Tamarod has officially announced its full support for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, therefore those adopting a different view cannotspeak in the movement’s name,” he wrote in a statement.
Tamarod spokesman Mohammad Nabawi accused Sabahi of causing a split in the movement by inviting some of its senior members to the press conference in which he announced his intention to run for president.
“Sabahi introduced Abdel Aziz and Shahin in the press conference as senior members of Tamarod which made it sound like the movement is supporting him while he knows very well that we support Sisi,” he said in a TV interview.
Nabawi accused Khaled al-Qadi, member of Tamarod’s politburo and one of the Sahabi supporters, of allowing members of the Egyptian Popular Current to infiltrate the movement.
Sabahi’s candidacy was met with objection by groups such as the April 6 Youth Movement and Revolutionary Socialists known for their stance against the army and particularly against Sisi.
Sherif al-Rubi, member of the April 6 politburo, said the movement will not support Sabahi because of his hesitation. “One time, he says he will support Sisi, then another time he decides to run for president,” he said.
Mohammad Hassan, another member of the movement, said he thinks it is likely Sabahi might withdraw in the last minute to leave the stage for Sisi.
“By stressing that his presidential bid is a personal decision, he left the door open for himself to withdraw and support Sisi,” he said. “We cannot trust Sabahi.”
Hassan’s statement, however, came before the Egyptian Popular Current’s official decision to back Sabahi.
Mahmoud Ezzat, member of the Revolutionary Socialists politburo, said the movement will not back Sabahi, also citing also his reluctance to make a decision earlier.
“Sabahi’s popularity decreased remarkably owing to his stances on the military,” he added. “Right now he does not represent the January 25 Revolution.”