Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Veteran left wing politician and former 2012 presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy announced he will be running in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections.
Sabahy, the founder of the Popular Current political party, told a crowd of jubilant supporters in Cairo on Saturday that it was “my duty to run [for the presidency] with God’s blessing and your help, fully trusting in the great Egyptian people.”
He now becomes the first candidate to officially enter the race, slated to take place before April 18, as per a presidential decree issued by Interim President Mansour Adly last month.
Sabahy was eliminated from the first round of voting in the 2012 elections, coming third after the eventual winner, former President Mohamed Mursi, and former Mubarak aide and prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, who announced last month he would not be running this time around.
Another former 2012 presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, announced on Sunday that he would not stand again. A statement from his Strong Egypt Party confirmed he would not be a candidate this year, calling the polls a “farce.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat earlier this month, Aboul-Fotouh said he thought a younger person should be Egypt’s next leader, and was critical of the Egypt’s post-Mursi political roadmap, referring to it as “coercive.”
Sabahy’s announcement of his own candidacy follows hints over the last few months that he would be joining the race.
Following the announcement, two co-founding members of the Tamarod (Rebel) movement which organized the protests last year that eventually led to Mursi’s ouster, offered their support for Sabahy, despite the movement officially backing Egypt’s army chief and defense minister, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Sabahy is expected to face stiff competition from Sisi, who last month was promoted to his current rank from General, and was given the go-ahead by the country’s army to run for the position, both moves largely seen as presaging his official announcement to run in the race.
On Friday, sources close to Sisi told Asharq Al-Awsat he would be announcing his candidacy before the middle of February.
Sisi has become immensely popular since Mursi’s ouster, with a number of organizations calling for him to run for the presidency, and with many in the country likening him—and especially his speeches—to former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, of whom Sabahy is a self-confessed follower, politically.
The army chief is seen by many in Egypt as being, like Egypt’s legendary former Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, a strongman who will help move the country forward politically and economically following the instability during the three years since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The pro-Mursi Anti-Coup Alliance has called for massive demonstrations to mark the third anniversary of Mubarak’s removal next Tuesday. However, members of the group have responded positively to a reconciliation initiative suggested by Hassan Nafaa, a former coordinator-general for the Mohamed El-Baradei’s National Association for Change.
Nafaa, a political science lecturer at Cairo University, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that “the Construction and Development Party [political wing of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya] has responded positively to the initiative, but expressed reservations about the analysis of the causes of the crisis.”
Nafaa, who announced the reconciliation move last week, called for the establishment of a committee, headed by prominent journalist and former Nasser aide, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, to push forward the initiative.
He has also proposed the inclusion of Islamic scholar and Mursi’s current lawyer, Mohamed Salim Al-Awa, as well as presidential political adviser Mostafa Hegazi, on the committee.
Nafaa said these proposals were welcomed by the CDP, one of the main parties in the Anti-Coup Alliance, in addition to other parties from outside the Alliance, most prominently the April 6 Movement, which previously announced its rejection of the roadmap presented by the army leadership and political forces following Mursi’s ouster.
Nafaa said he did not propose a discussion of “the mechanisms for the initiative,” but for all parties to commit to them before any possible political move. He said such mechanisms require all parties abandon violence, condemn terrorism, sever links with any other parties which resort to violence or terrorism, and limit preaching activity to those who are qualified and possess a permit from Al-Azhar, the country’s highest religious authority.