Saturday,24 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Saturday,24 March, 2018
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

An ever elusive unity

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi has come under heavy fire after launching an initiative to unite opposition forces seeking an alternative to policies of the current regime, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Let’s Build an Alternative”, an initiative launched by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi earlier this week, has been sharply attacked by supporters of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and even by some of his opponents.

Sabahi said the initiative was the result of a year of extensive discussions between prominent political figures and that it was not correct to brand the move as solely his. He added that there is an “urgent need”, given the dangers of terrorism and attempts to limit the gains of the 25 January Revolution, to create an alternative to the policies of “the current authoritarian regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood, who want to claim that they are the only serious opposition”.

But for Al-Sisi’s supporters there is no “alternative” to the president, whom they credit with saving the country and averting civil war. Some of Al-Sisi’s opponents are also critical of the initiative, claiming it is little more than a vehicle to keep twice-defeated presidential candidate Sabahi in the limelight.

They say that the initiative’s call for parties that agree with the principles of the 25 January 2011 Revolution that ended the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak to unite undermines the principles of pluralism and democracy.

Sabahi’s initiative comes less than two months after he gave a lengthy, and rare, television interview in which he criticised the president’s economic and political policies. He argued that the policies are identical to those pursued under Mubarak and likely to yield the same results. The interview so incensed Ashraf Farahat, a little-known lawyer, that he filed a complaint against Sabahi with the prosecutor-general, accusing him of seeking to overthrow the government and inciting violence.

Filing complaints to prosecutors against Al-Sisi’s opponents has become a common practice among a certain kind of lawyer. The vast majority of the complaints are shelved and ignored. What made the latest complaint against Sabahi notable is that Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek referred it for further investigation on 16 February, meaning that charges could be pressed against Sabahi.

MP Salah Hasaballah, who heads the tiny Al-Horeya Party, a vociferous supporter of the president, rails that Sabahi “has no right to call for an alternative to the current regime”. Said Hasaballah, “It is our job as MPs elected by the people to suggest alternative policies and legislations.”

He continued, “What does Sabahi mean demanding an alternative? Does he want to remove the current president who was elected by 97 per cent of voters when he is barely half-way through his term? What Sabahi is suggesting is ridiculous.”

Hasaballah added that Sabahi’s call to unite all parties opposed to the president’s policies is an attempt to replicate the success of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the umbrella grouping of political forces that opposed Brotherhood rule and called for Mohamed Morsi’s removal on 30 June 2013.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Sabahi denied that he was seeking to form a new NSF or to remove the president. He pointed out that he was the only politician who agreed to run against Al-Sisi in the May 2014 elections, and immediately recognised Al-Sisi’s victory.

Sabahi said the main aim of Let’s Build an Alternative is to unite the ranks of the Karama Party and the Popular Trend, two Nasserist political groups he helped found, while holding the door open for other parties, unions and NGOs to join.

Al-Karama was established during the Mubarak-era. The Popular Trend, which had the avowed aim of uniting all political forces that believed in the goals of the 25 January Revolution, was set up when Sabahi was a candidate in the 2012 presidential elections. It has yet to complete the paperwork necessary to become a recognized political party, and currently comprises mainly a younger generation of Nasserists.

“This is not my initiative alone but that of several national figures who believe Egypt needs a strong political party or front,” Sabahi said.

“The Egyptian people need a political organisation that reflects their aspirations and that can unite all the forces that believe in the 25 January Revolution and do not see 30 June 2013 as a military coup.”

Sabahi said the main reasons he and other political figures had decided to launch Let’s Build an Alternative were “Egypt’s severe economic difficulties, lack of social justice and deteriorating human rights conditions that have resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of young people who believe in the need for real change”.

After losing to Al-Sisi, Sabahi formed the Democratic Trend, an alliance of the six political parties that supported his campaign — Dostour, Karama, Popular Socialist Alliance, The Popular Trend, Al-Adl (Justice) and Egypt Freedom.

 Members of the Democratic Alliance have repeatedly discussed the possibility of upgrading their cooperation and possibly forming a single party, but are hampered by limited financial resources and riven with personal animosities, according to informed sources. Many were not happy with Sabahi’s initiative.

“We were not informed in advance of Sabahi’s intention to launch this initiative,” said Medhat Al-Zahed, acting president of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party. “Yes, there is a need to coordinate and increase the level of cooperation and joint action by all parties that believe in the 25 January Revolution and social justice but we disagree with the proposal of forming one big political party. This is against the principles of diversity and pluralism that we have long fought for.”

Democratic Alliance leaders were due to hold a meeting on 9 March to discuss Sabahi’s initiative. Sources say that several members are expected to declare their opposition to Sabahi’s initiative and their dismay at the unilateral manner in which it was announced.

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