Middle East analyst Nezar Al-Sayyad said he is not surprised by activist Hamdeen Sabbahi’s announcement that he will run in Egypt’s presidential election scheduled to take place in April.
Sabbahi came third in the 2012 election won by now-ousted leader Mohamed Morsi. His announcement comes as it appears likely army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will stand for the presidency as well.
Al-Sayyad, chair of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said Sabbahi does not stand a chance to win. Instead, he said his candidacy will legitimize Al-Sisi’s likely candidacy and cushion the general against Western criticism that April will be a one-man show.
Al-Sayyad said Sabbahi’s second reason for announcing his candidacy is to position him to be chosen as prime minister after the election.
“The man has a claim to run, absolutely. I don’t think he has a chance and I think he’s actually running right now as a way of doing two things. One, doing a favor to Al-Sisi and, two, doing a favor to his own party,” he said.
Al-Sayyad said Sabbahi is doing a favor for Al-Sisi’s candidacy because most potential candidates have said they will not run. And, if no one runs, the election will mirror the constitutional referendum in which Egypt’s government claimed 98 percent of the population voted in favor of the new constitution.
He said if that happens the whole world would probably condemn Egypt for conducting an unfair election.
Al-Sayyad said the second and most important reason for Sabbahi’s announcement is his own political future. Sabbahi is the leader of the Egyptian Popular Current and a co-leader of the National Salvation Front.
“If in fact he runs, and if he succeeds in getting a good 10 to15 percent of the vote in the presidential election, that would certainly help him and his party in the parliamentary election later. And, hence, he would be very well positioned to be chosen as prime minister by Al-Sisi, according to the Egyptian constitution which was passed in 2014,” Al-Sayyad said.
He said, while some Egyptians are uneasy about creating another dictatorship and might want to vote against an Al-Sisi candidacy, that scenario is not likely to succeed.
“It’s not going to happen because those who are totally against a military dictatorship are so disgusted with the presence of the military that they will not vote at all. And so, in a sense, they will boycott the vote. But, as we have seen from the constitutional referendum, if Al-Sisi is able to garner a good 15 million Egyptians to vote for him as president, he will be the legitimate president of the Republic of Egypt,” he said.
Al-Sayyad said Egyptians will have to accept the shift in public sentiments toward Al-Sisi, where he is seen by most Egyptians as their savior from the Muslim Brotherhood and someone who would bring security to Egypt.
While he says he does not know if the upcoming election can be considered free, it would be fair even if Al-Sisi wins by 90 percent because a wide spectrum of Egyptians, some of whom voted for Mohamed Morsi in 2012, are so disappointed because they feel that their condition has not changed for the better.
Al-Sayyad said this new hope that Egyptians have in Al-Sisi as their savior was partly orchestrated by the military through the media with the support of the old regime of [deposed President] Hosni Mubarak.