Sabahi pushes populist campaign in Egypt

Socialist message appeals to youth who want the new president to continue the revolution.

Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
CAIRO -- Hamdeen Sabahi’s tireless fight for Egypt’s poor and downtrodden has endeared him to the country’s youth movements.
On Monday, he received another endorsement, this time from the Youth of the Revolution movement, a conglomeration of youth groups whose goal is to push the January 25 uprising forward into the presidential palace. For them, Sabahi is the presidential candidate who will promote the revolution’s goals and the fight against the remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
At the heart of Sabahi’s message is social justice. He believes that Egypt can achieve economic progress and social justice for all 90 million Egyptians, many of whom live on 2 dollars a day.
“My campaign is for all Egyptians and especially a campaign for the poor and the alleviation of the struggle between the classes,” he said, his ardent belief in socialism apparent in almost all aspects of his presidential platform, which he believes will help create development and infrastructure to build a new Egypt.
“As a new president for a new Egypt, my first decision will be a quick rise in salaries for most of the working citizens either in public or private sectors, and also aid for poor people the very first moment I am in the [presidential] palace,” Sabahi added.
Sabahi seems pleased by the support he has gotten in recent weeks, moving his campaign from an outlier to a serious contender. A recent poll conducted by the Egyptian information service of the Cabinet revealed he is a rising contender, now a solid fourth behind the “big three”: former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and former Foreign Minister and Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa.
But Sabahi argues polls mean nothing, citing the one-third who are unsure of whom they will vote for, or if they will vote at all. His focus is instead on improving Egypt as it moves forward through its transition from Mubarak to the military to civilian rule.
“Regarding the economy and social justice, I hope to establish a state-capitalist Egypt, in which the public and private sectors cooperate with one another. Every Egyptian should be entitled to eight things: housing, health care, food, free education, work, insurance and a fair wage, and a clean environment,” Sabahi continued.
Still, what is holding him back from truly entering the top echelons of the political campaign are his lack of leadership experience and his tacit support for Saddam Hussein’s government during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Cairo University student and political blogger Ayman Yussif said that for him, Sabahi is an “idealist” but misunderstands where Egypt is heading and how to fight for all the people.
“I like the guy, he seems level-headed and says the right things on a daily basis, but one thing that I think he misses is the concept of unity and developing all Egyptian ideas and being able to lead the country,” he said.
But with only Shafiq and Moussa as candidates with actual leadership experience, Yussif feels the country is caught in a tough position. “Egyptians understand what it means to lead, which is why Moussa is getting a lot of support. He was against Mubarak during the uprising and that has really helped him, but it isn’t what we should be looking at completely.”
He argued that Sabahi needs to show “Egyptians that he can lead them into the future. If he can do this and if people believe him, he could really surprise a lot of people.”
This is exactly what Sabahi hopes to do. He believes his platform of social justice and boosting the poor will resonate among the people. It is just a matter of getting his name out there and his ideas heard.
“I really believe that what I offer is the best for Egypt, or I wouldn’t be running,” said the former journalist and independent member of Parliament, elected in 2000. “Peasants and agriculture have a special place in my agenda. Egypt mainly is an agricultural country and I will call off all debts, which weighs on every Egyptian peasant,” he said.
And his stalwart belief in Egypt’s national sovereignty is another aspect of his campaign that is being noticed.
“I like the man because I think he is honest,” said one café owner, who added that his vote will come down to Sabahi or the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, an odd combination of left and right candidates.
Sabahi is winning points on his long-held position towards Israel. He believes the peace treaty with Israel must be renewed but that Egypt should have a greater say in how it monitors and protects its borders.
“I will cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, which is not part of the [Camp David] treaty. We have no obligation to export gas to Israel, but we will still adhere to the Camp David treaty. Peace is so important to us, we have no time for war, and it is high time to build, not to destruct,” Sabahi said in a statement that is likely to go over well with the general population, who for years have felt that the treaty puts Egypt in an inferior position.
Despite Sabahi’s growing popularity, his support for Nasser-era politics and economics has left many of the growing young business crowd on edge. They say that Nasser’s policies failed and should not be revisited
Sabahi understands this, he said, but hopes to revive Egypt’s position in the Arab world.
“Egypt must remain at the core of the Arab world. This is its identity and destiny, the revival of Egypt is not a matter of ideology alone. We have to have a vision for revival. And my vision leans heavily on the experience of Abdel-Nasser,” he said.