Who backs who in Egypt’s presidential elections?
As Sisi and Sabahi go head-to-head, political parties in Egypt are choosing sides
On May 18, mass resignations from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party over the upcoming presidential elections were made public. More than 30 members quit in objection to the party’s decision not to take sides in the elections and to leave it up to each member to decide who of the two candidates, former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or leftist revolutionary Hamdeen Sabahi, to vote for as the long as the party’s name is not used in any way to campaign for one against the other. The decision was made by the party’s supreme committee after neither Sisi nor Sabahi obtained the percentage the party’s policy required to back a specific candidate, which is two thirds.
Based on the party’s internal poll, Sisi got 44 percent of the votes and Sabahi 14 percent while 42 percent opted for boycotting the elections altogether. Several of the resigning members joined the liberal Free Egyptians Party, which declared its support for Sisi. “There are ideological differences between resigning members and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party,” said Ayman Abul Ela, former secretary of parliamentary affairs in the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a new Free Egyptians member.
“The ideology of the Free Egyptians Party is in line with my political views and the party is home to a number of patriotic figures who work towards the establishment of a democratic state.” Abdul Ela stressed that joining the Free Egyptians Party does not imply any lack of respect or appreciation for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and that such a move is very common in democratic countries. Secretary General of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Ahmed Fawzi said he respected the decision of resigning members. “Partisan work is by definition voluntary and every citizen has the right to leave and join parties without being asked about reasons for doing so,” he said. Fawzi noted, however, that the two parties have different perspectives as far as the features of the coming stage are concerned. “Our party is center-left and therefore has social biases that are different from those adopted by liberal parties like Free Egyptians,” he explained. “They believe that the topmost priority in the coming stage is eliminating Islamist factions whereas we are categorically against the return of the police state in any form.”
In deciding to maintain an objective stance in the presidential elections, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Free Egyptians stood out. Free Egyptians, on the other hand, was like the rest of Egyptian parties that announced which candidate they would back and why. The Free Egyptians supreme committee listed four reasons for backing Sisi in the upcoming elections. First, Sisi takes credit for saving Egypt from the most malicious threat it has witnessed throughout its history. “Egypt was about to be hijacked by a terrorist gang that planned to destroy and divide the country,” said the party’s statement. “Sisi, together with the army, chose to take the people’s side and eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist rule.”
Second, supporting Sisi constitutes support for national security and the war on terrorism. “It is through both that Egypt would be able to regain its regional and international influence and to face all external conspiracies and security challenges.” Third, the statement added, supporting Sisi also constitutes support for the Egyptian people since he has proven that their demands are his priority. “That is why backing Sisi is a national duty of the first degree.” Fourth, the statement explained, backing Sisi comes as part of the vision that the party adopts for Egypt on the political, economic, and social levels. “This vision is what will save the country from the critical crises it is suffering from and our party members will put all their expertise and skills at the disposal of the president in order to make this vision materialize.” The statement stressed the party’s respect for Sisi’s rival Hamdeen Sabahi and argued that Egyptians will benefit in both cases.
The ultra- conservative al-Nour Party also decided to back Sisi and listed nine reasons for doing so. In addition to reasons that were quite similar to those stated by the Free Egyptians Party like national security, efficiency, and patriotism, the religious aspect played an important role in the party’s decision. According to the party’s statement, Sisi “is aware of the threat posed by Shiites,” “is known to pray regularly,” and “believes in Islamic identity and the rule of Islamic law.” Sisi, the statement added, could be against some of the ideologies adopted by Islamists, yet is not against Islam. “He is not liberal, secular, or leftist.” Being al-Nour’s mother organization the Salafist Call, similarly announced its support for Sisi and in addition to arguing that he was the most suitable man to lead Egypt at such a critical stage, also stated religious reasons. “Sisi is the representative of the Islamist ideology,” said Yasser Borhami, the Salafist Call vice president. “It was obvious from several meetings with him that he is religious.” Sheikh Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, head of the Salafist Call in Alexandria, reassured the young members of the organization that Sisi believes in the application of Islamic law. “Sisi just thinks that applying Islamic law needs time and should be done gradually,” he said in a speech in one of the city’s mosques. “On the other hand, the other candidate Hamdeen Sabahi adopts leftist ideologies.”
Coptic Pope Tawadros II said that backing Sisi is a national duty. “He is the hero of the June 30 revolution,” he said in a TV interview. “June 30 was not an ordinary day. It was a day when all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, united to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The pope added that since June 30, Egypt has been moving forward on the road to democracy that started with drafting a new constitution and will proceed with the presidential elections. In response to a question about human rights concerns about Sisi’s candidacy especially on the part of the West in relation to the status of the Coptic minority, Pope Tawadros said that the concept of human rights has lately been mishandled. “When the country is threatened by terrorism and violence in this manner, how can we talk now about human rights?”
Support for Sabahi
A number of Egyptian parties declared their support for Sabahi, the first of which was the Constitution Party, founded by former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohammad al-Baradei. Commenting on the 59.3 percent vote Sabahi got in the party’s internal poll, party chairman Hala Shukrallah said that this is one of the first steps the party takes towards the reconstruction of Egypt. “The fact that the majority chose to support Sabahi highlights the party’s path in the coming stage and which is basically focused on the establishment of a civilian state,” she said in a press conference.
In the same press conference, a document entitled “What we want from Egypt’s next president” was distributed to the audience. The document contained the party’s demands which included fighting corruption, illiteracy and poverty, eliminating repression, warranting the right to protest, and reducing internal and external debts.
The liberal Freedom Egypt Party, chaired by activist and political science professor Amr Hamzawi, announced its support for Sabahi, citing his ethical stances on post-June 30 practices. “Sabahi supported the June 30 uprising and played an active role in the roadmap that followed, yet he always voiced his objection to any actions that strayed away from the democratic path the uprising aimed at,” said the party’s statement. Sabahi’s stances, the statement added, have been in line with the party’s ideologies especially as far as human rights are concerned. “We have also expressed more than once our rejection of the violations that took place in recent times and which reenact the repressive policies of former regimes,” said the statement. “At the time, we condemned the violent discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.”
The Revolutionary Socialists Movement, however, criticized Sabahi’s stances following the June 30 protests, yet announced supporting him in the presidential elections. “We have reservations on Sabahi because of his passivity about the violations committed by the police and the army after June 30 and his subscription to the ‘war on terror’ theory which was just a pretext for the return of state repression,” the movement explained in the statement it entitled “Against Sisi, the leader of the counter-revolution.” However, the statement argued that Sisi’s popularity has been receding amongst Egyptians as many of them are unable to see him offering a realistic electoral platform and that this is the right time to support his rival. “Every vote Sisi loses is valuable if not today then tomorrow because it will help in building strong opposition in the future.” The movement called upon Sabahi to stop being “passive” and to adhere to the goals of the January 25 Revolution through focusing on five issues: transitional justice, rights and freedoms, the distribution of wealth, the establishment of a democracy, and national sovereignty. “We are not going to allow the people to fall prey to the counter-revolution and we will not boycott the elections even though we respect those who we will, but we will take part in the fight to expose Sisi and destroy the idol that is being sculpted by the returning Mubarak regime,” the statement concluded.
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