Egypt’s left-wing parties start searching for Sisi competitor

Sunday 28/05/2017
Prospective candidate. Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi attends a protest in Cairo against restrictions on the media, on May 4. (Reuters)

Cairo - Five Egyptian political par­ties have joined forces to try to unseat Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in next year’s presi­dential elections.

“There must be an alternative to the incumbent president, who is performing poorly,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, the leader of the leftist Pop­ular Current Party, one of the parties in the agreement. Sabahi, who bills himself as a Nasserist, was the sole candidate against Sisi in Egypt’s 2014 presidential election, but took less than 5% of the vote.

“Political parties have ideas on how best this country can get out of the deteriorating conditions in which Sisi has mired the nation,” Sabahi said.

The agreement was signed in May by five broadly left-wing parties: the Popular Current, the Constitution Party, the Freedom Party, the Egyp­tian Social Democratic Party and the Justice Party. The five parties were all formed after the 2011 revolution, although many have ties to longer-standing political movements.

“Our initiative is peaceful and aims to put an end to poverty and bring about justice for all Egyp­tians,” said Khaled Dawoud, head of the Constitution Party. “We want to convince Egyptians that there can be an alternative to Sisi who can solve their problems.”

Prospective candidates include Sabahi, Egyptian-American space scientist and former presidential adviser Essam Heggy and former head of Egypt’s Central Auditing Organisation Hisham Geneina, who was removed from office by Sisi.

Although Egypt’s presidential elections are not due until mid- 2018, there has been considerate media speculation after Sisi, in late April, said: “I swear by God that I will not stay in office for a second (more) if the people do not want me to.”

“I swore an oath to respect the constitution,” he said during an Egyptian youth conference.

Egypt’s constitution limits a presidency to two 4-year terms. A pro-Sisi member of parliament in February submitted a constitutional amendment to increase presidential terms to six years. That move was quickly dropped under public pres­sure but served as an indication of the growing division that surrounds Sisi, who previously enjoyed huge public support.

Several officials from President Hosni Mubarak’s government, over­thrown in 2011, are expected to try to make political comebacks in the 2018 presidential election. Among them could be Ahmed Shafiq, civil aviation minister under Mubarak who stood against Muslim Brother­hood candidate Muhammad Morsi in Egypt’s 2012 presidential elec­tions, observers said. There have been rumblings that former Egyp­tian Army chief Sami Anan could also stand for president.

Despite worsening day-to-day conditions for average Egyptians following the flotation of the na­tional currency and the slashing of subsidies, few expect Sisi to face any real challenge in next year’s elections.

“Like all other parties in this country, the parties that made the deal have no actual presence on the streets,” said Tarek Fahmi, a politi­cal science professor at Cairo Uni­versity. “Polls are not only about the economy. Sisi knows that his popularity is no longer as high as it was four years ago but he made achievements that will speak loudly for him.”

Sisi cites the launch of infrastruc­ture projects worth billions of dol­lars, including a new capital on the outskirts of Cairo and the Suez Ca­nal project as accomplishments that will boost the economy. The popu­lar former army chief also points to the presence of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula as rea­sons to retain him as the country’s leader.