Friday,18 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Friday,18 August, 2017
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Playing on an empty field

Mona El-Nahhas examines how next year’s presidential election is likely to shape up

Sabahi during the conference on Friday
Sabahi during the conference on Friday

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s four-year term in office is due to end in June 2018, leaving little more than a year until the next presidential election. So does Al-Sisi intend to run for a second term? And what is the position of civil political forces towards the election? Will they field candidates? How prepared are they? There appear to be more questions than answers.

On 5 May former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi called for a national front to be formed from among opposition political forces which should then agree to back a single candidate.

Speaking at a conference held following the merging of the Nasserist Karama and the Popular Current Parties into the Karama Current, Sabahi referred to the current regime as “a bad copy of Mubarak’s ruling system”.

“It is the time to face down a helpless and failing authority,” said Sabahi. “I stood in the presidential polls of 2012 and 2014. Now, I will be honoured to back the nominee who wins the backing of all democratic and national forces.”

Sabahi’s statement at least ended speculation over his own intentions.

The only candidate apart from Al-Sisi in the 2014 poll, Sabahi was subsequently accused of lending himself as décor in an election in which Al-Sisi won 96.6 per cent of the vote.

“The next election is likely to be very different given the dwindling popularity of the current regime,” says Medhat Al-Zahed, acting chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

Al-Zahed acknowledges that it will be difficult, though not impossible, for opposition forces to agree on a unity candidate. He says public anger directed at the current ruling system — mainly as a result of galloping inflation — is likely to tempt a number of possible candidates to throw their hats into the ring. Yet this has not prevented Al-Zahed’s party, one of five members of the Democratic Current Coalition, to pursue an initiative aimed at agreeing on a single opposition candidate.

Negotiations with political parties are ongoing in the hope of forging a consensus manifesto and agreeing on a candidate. According to Al-Zahed, several names have been suggested, some independent figures, others partisan. Within five months Al-Zahed expects both manifesto and candidate to be settled.

Then, says Al-Zahed, the real struggle will begin.

“The candidate, whoever it is, must bear in mind that attempts to change the political equation are akin to swimming against the tide.”

Whoever stands will be facing the state-sponsored media, warns Al-Zahed, “and social media will be one of the few tools on which the candidate can rely”.

“Direct contact with the public and the ability to offer a well-prepared presidential programme will also be helpful.”

“But whatever the circumstances progressive forces should not quit the political arena. We need to be part of the electoral battle.”

For Maasoum Marzouk, a leading member of the Karama Current, the looming presidential election is part of a bigger battle.

“We are not against Al-Sisi as president. We are against a corrupt regime that works to deprive Egyptians of any democratic gains they won following the January Revolution,” says Marzouk.

To succeed in this battle progressive forces have to present a unified front and agree a single candidate. “We cannot afford to fragment the progressive vote. That would only benefit the status quo candidate,” he warns.

According to Marzouk, anyone who stands against Al-Sisi should be ready for a ferocious battle waged by all state institutions but led by the media. “Although forging the public will is likely, and smear campaigns targeting all potential opposition candidates are inevitable, we have no choice but to take part in the battle,” says Marzouk.

While the contours of the forthcoming battle are unclear some features are predictable. Political parties close to the regime will prefer to support Al-Sisi if he decides to run for a second term. If not, they will opt to support the candidate backed by the state regardless of whether he is from the military or even a figure from the Mubarak years.

Among possible candidates committed to a civil, democratic state, several names have emerged though none has indicated an intention to stand.

Rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali is often cited as a possible nominee. His history defending workers’ rights and his spearheading of the legal campaign to keep the islands of Tiran and Sanafir have resulted in wide public exposure.

Hisham Geneina, the former chairman of the Central Auditing Agency (CAA), sees next year’s presidential election as “an opportunity to rectify the revolution’s course”.

Geneina’s attendance at the Karama Current conference has been interpreted by some commentators as an attempt to position himself as a candidate. Geneina denies such speculation. Dismissed from the CAA after issuing statements estimating the cost of corruption at more than LE600 billion, Geneina was tried on charges of spreading false news and received a suspended sentence in December, meaning he will be ineligible to stand in any case.

Last October legal activist Tarek Al-Awadi announced on his Facebook account that he intended to nominate himself but the announcement attracted little interest. Al-Awadi does not enjoy the same standing as Ali though at the time his initiative was seen by some as a brave attempt to stir the stagnant political waters. In April Al-Awadi warned political forces that their failure to make any moves to agree a consensus candidate was sending the public a very negative message.

Anwar Al-Sadat, the chairman of the Reform and Development Party expelled from parliament in February says he is still considering the possibility of standing. Sources close to Al-Sadat say the former MP has been meeting with businessmen, youth leaderships, public and political figures and representatives of religious institutions.

Last July Egyptian NASA scientist Essam Heggy proposed forming a presidential team to formulate a platform based on improving education and fostering equality and national unity. Heggy himself, though, as the holder of dual nationality, is ineligible to stand.

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