News / Middle East

Hamdeen Sabahi: Egypt’s Other Candidate

Elizabeth Arrott
— In an Egypt dominated by the candidacy of former defense minister and army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, it is easy to forget there is another candidate in the presidential race.

But Hamdeen Sabahi — opposition politician, Nasserite socialist and occasional poet — is registering single-digit support in his uphill battle against the frontrunner, who is polling with up to 80 percent of voter support.

Such overwhelming odds have not deterred his fans.

A third place finisher in the 2012 presidential vote, Sabahi continues to draw support with his promise of economic justice.

"If God is gracious to me, through your votes, I vow in front of God and in front of you that not one person in Egypt will sleep hungry or humiliated," he said during a recent speech.

What sets him apart from most voices in Egypt is his talk of reconciliation. While Sabahi supported the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a ban of the Muslim Brotherhood, he has held out an olive branch to individuals within the movement. 

“No one will be able to build Egypt in this environment of extreme polarization and hate speech, whether it is accusing someone of being an apostate or of treason in the name of religion or nationalism," he said during his campaign launch on April 30. "The country needs to be reunited.”

While many voters might consider the message politically premature, even some Sissi supporters say Sabahi brings a much needed sense of legitimacy to a race critics call one-sided.

“There is competition. Hamdeen Sabahi is a well-known, respected man and I can’t deny that," said attorney Mohamed al Rifi. "I support el-Sissi, but I can’t deny that Hamdeen Sabahi deserves to run.”

But on the streets of Cairo, some recall how other potential candidates bowed out upon el-Sissi's decision to run. They say Sabahi’s presence gives the election a false legitimacy.

“I don’t think it is a competition," said Nermine Sirai al Din. "I think they’re just lying to the Egyptian population.”

Yet Sabahi dismisses such concerns about his role in the race and, despite his poor showing in the polls, says he is in it to win it.

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