Challenges ahead

Hamdeen Sabahi has accepted a tough challenge in announcing his personal decision to run in the upcoming presidential race – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Khaled Dawoud, Feb 13, 2014.

While all eyes remain focused on Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his expected decision to run for president, Nasserist leader and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi bowed to mounting pressure from younger members of his movement, the Popular Trend or Al-Tayar Al-Shaabi, and announced his “personal decision” to compete for the top post this week. 

“I will not let down any of the young people in this room, and I cannot see a sign of defeat in their eyes,” Sabahi told a packed hall at an event organised to honour the mothers of the “25 January Revolution martyrs” on Saturday.

“That is why I have taken a personal decision to run as a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections,” he added amid heated cheers, chanting and screams from the crowd. Sabahi had been hesitant to take the decision and had stated a few times that he was willing to support Al-Sisi for president “if he declared that he would be committed to achieving the goals of the 25 January Revolution.”

To the surprise of many, Sabahi, 59, came in third in the first round of the presidential elections held in May 2012, following former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, now in jail facing trial over scores of serious charges including espionage, and former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who was the last senior official ousted former president Hosni Mubarak appointed after a popular revolt against his 30-year rule on 25 January 2011.

Sabahi won 4.6 million votes in the elections, followed by Islamist candidate and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh who gathered nearly four million votes. Sabahi, a former member of parliament, built his reputation as a staunch opponent of Mubarak and was jailed several times under his rule.

Abul-Fotouh announced on the same day Sabahi declared his intentions that his party, Strong Egypt, would not nominate a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, expected to be held in April, saying the entire process was “flawed” and there were few guarantees of free and fair competition since all the bodies of the “deep state” seemed to be backing a single candidate — Al-Sisi.

It remains a mystery why Al-Sisi has been delaying his expected decision to resign from his military post, as the law demands, ahead of announcing that he will be the lead candidate in the presidential race. Yet, a decision has to be made soon, as interim President Adli Mansour is due to issue the presidential elections law “within days,” opening the door for the Supreme Elections Commission to set firm dates for the elections … //

… The youth groups are also furious over a recent wave of arrests that has targeted leaders of leftist and radical groups, such as 6 April movement founder Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Doma, Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mohammed Adel, apparently showing that their participation in the 30 June uprising is unlikely to be translated into making their voices heard or taking steps towards achieving the goals of the 25 January Revolution, among them building a modern, democratic state in which civilians have control over all state bodies, including the military.

Recent revelations that some of the activists arrested on 25 January this year when marking the third anniversary of the revolution were tortured while in prison have further angered many of the youth who belong to political parties and movements, including those who belong to Sabahi’s Al-Tayar Al-Shaabi movement.

However, despite initial attacks against Sabahi after he stated he was considering running for president, his announcement on Saturday was largely welcomed by all groups, including those supporting Al-Sisi. There has been a clear change of tone among Al-Sisi supporters from considering any attempt to challenge him as an “act of treason” to welcoming the competition after recognising that a single-candidate campaign would not reflect well on attempts to portray him as a political figure committed to democracy.

Sabahi’s counterparts in the National Salvation Front that united liberal and leftist parties under the Brotherhood and Morsi’s rule and who had decided not to support him and had backed Al-Sisi instead, such as Wafd party leader Sayed Badawi and former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, also welcomed his decision, describing it as a “courageous.”

But this “courage” was not welcomed by all the youth groups, including the 6 April movement, the Youth for Freedom and Justice and the Revolutionary Socialists. These issued statements saying they did not “trust Sabahi as the true representative of the 25 January Revolution” because of his hesitation over running and his apparent willingness to accept a major role for the army in politics.

Mohammed Hassan, a senior member of the 6 April movement-Democratic Front, did not exclude the possibility that Sabahi could pull out of the race at the last minute and announce his support for Al-Sisi. “By saying that he had personally decided to run for president, he left the door open for a retreat at a later stage by claiming that after pressure from his movement and many supporters he had decided to change his mind and back Al-Sisi for president instead,” Hassan said.

“It is for this reason that we cannot trust Sabahi.”
(full text).


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