Egyptian activist Hamdeen Sabbahi has faced a number of challenges and crises in his life due to his opposite to the former regimes of President Anwar Al-Sadat and his successor Hosni Mubarak. However, what Sabbahi currently faces could be the most complicated and dangerous in the 59-year-old’s life. The current challenges could undermine Sabbahi’s future in Egypt’s political life.
As a leftist and Nasserite activist, Sabbahi faced imprisonment many times in his twenties with thousands of Nasserites and Marxists, while the Islamists were embraced by the government to attack the leftists in the universities and to kill the Copts in Upper Egypt. He was imprisoned over 13 times for his different positions to defend the rights of farmers who faced Feudalism during Mubarak’s tenure on the one hand, and to refuse normalization with Israel, on the other.
Sabbahi and those activists who managed to overcome these bad experiences will realize in the future that these experiences are less harsh than what is coming.
As a politician, Sabbahi faced a number of successes and failures when he joined and formed a number of political parties, coalitions, and organizations, including the Nasserite Party, the Karama Party, and the Popular Coalition. He faced successes and failures during the consecutive parliamentary elections, but he will realize that his pains for those people who were killed by the State Security Agency while defending the ballot boxes will not be more serious than what he will face during the coming period.
Despite the increasing votes that the Egyptian activist gained during the last presidential elections, he failed to win the elections or make the runoff round due to the verdict issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court that allowed figures from Mubarak’s regime to be involved in the political life. Sabbahi’s frustration for his defeat in the last presidential elections will not be the most serious challenge in his life.
As a father, Sabbahi faced a serious dilemma when his daughter Salma was accused of electronic fraud. He managed to overcome the crisis when the judiciary acquitted her, but he will realize that this personal dilemma will not be the most difficult challenge that he will face in his personal life.
As a human, the presidential candidate faced brutal campaign attacks that sought to break his image before the Egyptian people. Sabbahi, who lives in a modest apartment with his wife and son, faced increasing accusations- even from a number of those who adopt his same leftist approach- without any evidence to condemn him. He was accused of receiving financial support from Libya and Iraq during the eras of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi. They also accused him of exerting efforts just to seize power.
None of those who accused Sabbahi took legal steps against him, but rather they adopted another approach to defame him. They resume their campaign to assassinate Sabbahi psychologically without any evidence.
It is strange that the campaign adopted by the spies of the State Security Agency to assassinate Sabbahi psychologically after the June 30 revolution despite the role he performed to rally the people against the former regime. The leftist activist performed a leading role and submitted a number of initiatives to bridge the gap between the different non-Islamist parties to unify them under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front, which remains, despite its mistakes, the first and most important spark that fueled the battle to overthrow the fascist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The June 30 revolution was supposed to pave the way for creating an expanded partnership between Sabbahi and the non-Islamist parties on the one hand and the current ruling authority on the other. However, the biased media channels and newspapers targeted him, taking up an unprecedented campaign against him that he had not faced before even during the worst periods of Mubarak’s rule. The brutal campaign has not only targeted Sabbahi but has also smeared the January 25 Revolution, describing it as a setback and an international conspiracy against Mubarak’s regime.
Sabbahi faced increasing threats to leak a number of his phone calls condemning him since his decision to run for the presidency. Although the claimed leaks have not been broadcasted, the message itself aims to move the potential presidential candidate from attack to defense. For the hundredth time, he will realize that it will not be the last confrontation, but he will face more brutal battles and difficult decisions.
Sabbahi faces more complicated and difficult situations currently due to the increasing demands raised by a number of his close friends and popular parties to step aside from the current political scene and not run in the coming presidential elections against Minister of Defense Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
On the other hand, a number of youth who participated in January 25 Revolution and other popular parties demanded him to run for president as the representative of the January 25 Revolution in coordination with the political activist Khaled Ali.
Sabbahi currently is confused between his desire not to challenge the sweeping popular mood that he used to respect and his will not to let down the revolution and a large sector of its youth, who believe that Sabbahi’s decision not to run for the presidency would leave the country between the candidate of the state and other candidates affiliated with trends spoken by the Egyptian people, including the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
Not only the biased media but also those affiliated with the counter-revolution demand Sabbahi step aside from the political scene, and there are other sectors of the Egyptian society that demand the same.
The overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people believe that Minister of Defense Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the savior who can lead the country after three years of chaos, instability, insecurity, and economic deterioration. Such vision came not only as a result of the courageous role that he performed to remove the former president from the power in response to the popular will, but it also came because of the need for a serious leader.
Sisi was the only person who has not face campaigns aimed to break his public, so most people view him as the solution to the country’s problems. Historically, the popular mood could witness notable changes in a few months. In Britain, the popular mood towards Churchill strongly changed in few months after World War II, bringing the Chairperson of the Labor Party Clement Atlee to power at the expense of the war hero during the first elections after the war.
In Egypt, the popular mood witnessed notable change after the January 25 Revolution, as people’s support for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its head Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy into full opposition. They adopted the slogan “down with military rule” to replace the slogan “the army and people are one hand.”
The Egyptians also strongly opposed the Muslim Brotherhood during their rule- despite the popularity that allowed them to dominate the parliament and the presidency after the revolution in 2011 and 2012- due to the dictatorial approach they adopted and their failure to lead the country. The people managed to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood during June 30 revolution.
We will not discuss the impossibility of depending on the popular mood to draw the future of the country, due to its fluctuations, but we deal with it as a fact on the ground that Sabbahi cannot transcend. It is difficult for the leftist activist to challenge the feelings of those whom he struggled for for over 40 years.
In the same context, Sabbahi’s friends expressed their explicit and sometimes implicit support for the military leader in the coming presidential elections scheduled to be held in less than 90 days, in their meetings and through their emails. Many of Sabbahi’s colleagues in the National Salvation Front switched not only to support Sisi but also to launch smear campaigns against the leftist activist.
In fact, most of those people are not enemies of Sabbahi but his friends. They believe that Sabbahi’s decision to run for the presidency will undermine his opportunity in any coming elections. They believe that the leftist figure would gain a small number of votes if he decided to run against Sisi. They call him to not take the step to keep his opportunity in the future as a qualified person for the position.
Sabbahi expressed support for the expanded national coalition against the fascist approach adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing that he will not be a reason to dissolve this coalition. He is convinced that the revolution will not rule the country without cooperation with the military institution. He believes that any conflict with the army would serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood internally and the U.S. and Israel externally.
On the other hand, we have a large number of people and revolutionaries who expressed support for Sabbahi’s nomination for the coming presidential elections despite the evidence that he will not win the coming elections. The young people, who participated in the January 25 Revolution, whether independent or affiliated to the parties established after the revolution, are divided between reserved and unreserved trends.
The reserved trend sees that Field Marshal Sisi has not adopted a clear political platform expressing support for the January 25 Revolution and pledging to adopt policies opposite to the approach adopted by the former regimes of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak. They believe that the Minister of Defense did not promise to liberate the country from subordination to the U.S. and to achieve the objectives of the revolution, including social justice and development. This trend turned to support Sabbahi’s nomination as a precautionary measure to ensure achieving the demands of the people.
However, the unreserved trend turned to explicitly support Sabbahi in a protest against the return of the remnants of Mubarak’s regime to dominate both the political scene and the media and the repressive approach adopted by the Interior Ministry through imprisoning and killing a number of revolutionaries. This trend believes that the current ruling regime came to restore the rule of not only the SCAF or the Muslim Brotherhood but also Mubarak’s regime.
They stressed the need to nominate a candidate affiliated with the January 25 Revolution to protect the gains that the Egyptians achieved through the precious blood of the martyrs who were killed during the revolution.
Both the reserved and unreserved people expressed their frustration for the current situation, threatening to resume their revolutionary escalation if Sabbahi refused to run for the presidency, while others affiliated with organizations close to the leftist activist threatened to suspend their membership in these organizations.
If Sabbahi refused to respond to the will of those people, he would sacrifice not only his personal future but also his political project. He would lose his popularity, as his supporters would believe that he abandoned the revolution and let them down.
In fact, the different parties have ignored the viewpoint adopted by Sabbahi, who enjoys both experience and enthusiasm. He is neither pure revolutionary nor pure politician. He always takes calculated steps and ventures. He is the only person who realizes the different sides of the issue to bear the responsibility of the decision that he will take.
The main challenge that Sabbahi faces is the lack of guarantees. Those people who call him to withdraw from the political arena do not pressure for early guarantees to ensure the commitment of the coming regime to the principles of the revolution and to ensure the participation of the revolutionary powers in ruling the country.
However, the revolutionaries do not ensure that the revolutionary movements would support him if he decided to run for the presidency against the representative of the military institution. It is impossible for any party to provide such a pledge because of the current division among the revolutionaries.