Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The star and the eagle

Presidential election candidates Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi are preparing to launch their election campaigns, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s upcoming presidential election campaigns are scheduled to kick off next Saturday and last until midnight on 23 May. The dates were decided after the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) — the judicial body in charge of overseeing the polls — announced on 27 April that Al-Sisi and Sabahi had been officially listed as contenders in the 2014 presidential race.

PEC spokesman Abdel-Aziz Salman said in a press conference on Sunday that the commission had reviewed the documents of both candidates and concluded that both met the eligibility requirements. He said that only former army chief Al-Sisi — with 188,930 endorsements and leftist politician Sabahi with 31,555 — could compete in next month’s presidential polls.

“No objections or appeals have been filed against the two candidates, and this clears the path for them to be the two contenders in the elections,” Salman said.

The PEC is scheduled to meet tomorrow to grant Al-Sisi and Sabahi their campaigning and voting symbols. “Once these are announced, the election campaigns will kick off as scheduled on 3 May,” Salman said, denying rumours that Al-Sisi had been granted a star symbol while Sabahi had requested an eagle symbol.

“The symbols will be granted to each candidate on Friday,” Salman said, announcing that a committee including representatives from the ministries of religious endowments (waqfs), media and education, as well as the police’s general investigation department and the Egyptian Anti-Corruption Agency, would monitor campaign policies.

A Central Auditing Agency (CAA) committee would take charge of overseeing spending on the campaigns by each candidate. The presidential elections law states that the ceiling for campaign spending in the first round should not exceed LE20 million, and in the case of a run-off it will be limited to a further LE5 million.

Salman also indicated that the balloting, scheduled to take place on 26-27 May, would be scheduled in due course for Egyptian expatriates.

After their official listing as candidates, Al-Sisi and Sabahi began preparing for their campaigns. Both have been exchanging accusations, with Sabahi being quoted as telling a meeting of young revolutionary forces on 25 April that if he were elected he would put Al-Sisi “on trial on manslaughter charges.”

Al-Sisi’s campaign immediately accused Sabahi of irresponsibility and violating the electoral code.

Although Sabahi strongly denied that he had attacked Al-Sisi and insisted that he was misquoted, Al-Sisi’s campaign said they had a video of the meeting. Nabil Farouk, a journalist and political activist, said that Sabahi’s anti-Al-Sisi statements had intended to win the votes of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

“After he was barely able to gather the required endorsements, Sabahi now aims to get the votes of the group that Al-Sisi helped the country get rid of,” Farouk said, urging Sabahi to focus on winning the votes of ordinary Egyptians by devising a strong electoral platform.

In statements on 27 April, Sabahi insisted that if elected, he “would not seek revenge against any official or any group. I just want to emphasise that there should be fair trials for all those who face accusations of shedding the blood of innocent Egyptians, abusing public funds, and rigging elections,” he said.

Sabahi stressed that “the votes of Muslim Brotherhood members are of no concern to me. But I have a major concern about rebuilding the country on the basis of national unity and reconciliation.” Sabahi blamed the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood for the disruption of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in. “The leaders of this group who preached violence and extremism are responsible for shedding the blood of the thousands of innocent people who gathered there,” he said.

As expected, most of the young revolutionary forces have declared their support for Sabahi. They include the liberal Dostour Party, the Egyptian Popular Current and Karama Party, which Sabahi leads, the Revolutionary Socialist Movement, and Al-Adl, a low-profile liberal party. Mustafa Al-Naggar, a former MP and chairman of Al-Adl, said “the battle between Sabahi and Al-Sisi is a battle between the 25 January Revolution and counter-revolutionary forces.”

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, another revolutionary party with a mix of liberal and socialist ideology, has been divided into two camps, with younger members declaring their support for Sabahi.

Sabahi was supposed to have declared his electoral platform in a press conference yesterday. His campaign said his platform would focus on addressing social injustice in Egypt, reinforcing independence, and maintaining freedoms and democracy in the form of revoking the new protest law and releasing political activists who have been sentenced to three years in jail for protesting against this law.

Al-Sisi’s campaign announced that once the PEC gives the green light for campaigning to begin next Saturday, Al-Sisi will deliver a speech on his electoral platform and vision for the future. Abdallah Al-Moghazli, a spokesman for Al-Sisi, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “it is sure that Al-Sisi will deliver a speech, but I cannot say whether it will be on Saturday or later.”

Al-Moghazli said Al-Sisi “fully respects the PEC’s rules and he cannot address the nation on his electoral programme until the door of campaigning officially opens next Saturday.”

Al-Moghazli explained that Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former high-profile foreign minister, was acting as an advisor to Al-Sisi and that he was keen that Al-Sisi’s address should reflect a panoramic view of the future. “The address will show Al-Sisi as both a reliable statesman and a politician with experience and good international relations,” al-Moghazli said.

Al-Moghazli said he expected Al-Sisi to win the election by more than 70 per cent of the vote. He said that Al-Sisi’s campaign had been able to collect around 550,000 endorsements for his candidacy in less than two weeks, out of a total of close to 590,000 from across 27 governorates. “This signals his high popularity and is an early prediction that Al-Sisi could sweep the board by a landslide margin,” he said.

Amr Al-Chobaki, an Al-Ahram political analyst and a member of Al-Sisi’s campaign, said that “the campaign is aware that Al-Sisi’s adversaries – including the Muslim Brotherhood, the western media, and the young revolutionary movements – will try their best to portray him as a man with a purely military background and mentality, claiming that he wants to take Egypt back to its pre-2011 authoritarian and repressive ways rather than offering a democratic and liberal vision for the future.”

Al-Chobaki said Al-Sisi’s speech would likely focus on the necessity of restoring order and discipline to the country, the priority for millions of ordinary Egyptians, but not at the expense of freedoms or reinstating the regime of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. 

Al-Chobaki said that the US Obama administration’s decision to resume part of its military assistance to Egypt and to designate the Sinai-based Beit al-Maqdis group as a terrorist organisation had further boosted Al-Sisi’s popularity. “It gave the impression to most Egyptians that when Al-Sisi was defence minister, he was able to play Egypt’s cards very well with the US administration, in terms of paying a historic visit to Russia and getting huge financial assistance from most oil-rich Arab Gulf countries,” he said. 

Al-Sisi himself held meetings with prominent delegations and figures this week. In a meeting with tourism investors on 27 April, Al-Sisi urged Egyptians to turn out in their millions to participate in the poll. On this, Al-Chobaki commented that “there are fears that there will be a low turn-out, as forces like the Muslim Brotherhood are doing their best to spread the impression that the result of the vote is meaningless and is a foregone conclusion.”

On Monday, Al-Sisi met with Abdel-Hakim Abdel-Nasser, the son of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and an array of high-profile Nasserist politicians and journalists, among them Abdel-Halim Qandil, a Nasserist who was a fierce critic of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

Gamal Zahran, a Nasserist and a political science professor at the Suez Canal University, told the Weekly that “the two-hour meeting with Al-Sisi focused on the necessity of espousing the ideals of the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions and no return to the Mubarak regime’s despotic practices.”

Abdel-Hakim Abdel-Nasser said in statements on Tuesday that “the high popularity of Al-Sisi among ordinary Egyptians reflects a firm belief in the Egyptian army and its being a major force that can stand up to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood and its militant Islamist allies.”

Abdel-Nasser said that “Al-Sisi cannot become another Nasser. There are great differences between the two men because each belongs to a different age.” However, he added that “both men share many points of one single agenda.” Both come from a military background, both believe in national independence, both have a strong enmity for the Muslim Brotherhood and both believe in the necessity of independent development.

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