When I met Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on 4 June 2013 in the Presidential Palace in Cairo, he told me that the future success of his administration would depend on two key factors: opposition activist, Hamdeen Sabahi and al-Nour, Egypt’s second most significant Islamist party after the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
As the world now knows, on 30 June Morsi was overthrown by a military junta and his whereabouts – and future – remain unknown. Far from offering Morsi their stalwart backing, al-Nour openly sided with the junta and its leader, Field Marshall Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who looks set to win the forthcoming Presidential elections.
Hamdeen Sabahi, on the other hand, is the only serious opponent claiming to challenge al-Sisi for the presidency.
I spent much of yesterday watching television interviews and leafing through newspapers, in order to identify the key campaign points and political manifestos of the two contenders. Sadly, there appears to be little to chose between them.
Both are committed to an absolute hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood and anticipate its impending eradication. Both are also committed to maintaining the Camp David Accords, progressive taxation, helping the poor, stimulating the economy to create jobs and to making sure they do not lose a cent of US military aid.
Al-Sabah means morning in Arabic, but is Mr Sabahi promising his fellow countrymen a new dawn?
Here are a few observations that suggest that this may not be the case:
Mr Al-Sabahi has made much of his ambitions for national reconciliation, claiming that he wants to see justice for all and end to division and polarization in Egypt. Sadly, he contradicted himself entirely when he announced that, on his watch, the Muslim Brotherhood “would neither exist as an organization, nor as a political party.”
This is a strange manifesto on the part of someone who is meant to be opposing the junta whose main aim is to annihilate the Muslim Brotherhood. He did allow that “peaceful members of the Brotherhood would be treated as citizens according to the rule of law,” however.
In the past Mr al-Sabahi has expressed a clearly pan-Arab agenda, suggesting a new Arab Union of independent states as well as a unified currency. He has also been a vigorous supporter of Palestinian rights, opposing “normalisation” with Israel, and even suggesting that if he were to become President he would cut off the supply of Gas to Israel and revisit the peace treaty. On these issues he has so far been remarkably silent during his campaign.
Al-Sisi meanwhile has completely overturned his previous positions on Israel, saying that as President he would honour the peace treaty, and Camp David and would even consider a state visit to Tel Aviv if “progress was made with the peace process” – a very woolly condition.
Both candidates are mindful of the legacy of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Al-Sabahi used to enjoy the support of Nasser’s son, but he has since switched allegiance to al-Sisi whom he describes as having responded to the “people’s will” on June 30th last year. Al-Sisi responded during a lengthy TV interview with the observation that Nasser is not only a picture hanging on the walls of every Egyptian’s house but exists forever in their hearts.
We are well aware that the forthcoming Presidential election is a one-horse race prepared for the inevitable victory of Field Marshal al-Sisi. Al-Sabahi will concentrate now on the revolutionary youth and the poor and his campaign may become more radical in direct proportion to his fading chances of winning since he will have increasingly less to lose.
That is unless he is given the promise of the post of Vice President, or the Leader of Parliament. According to most commentators, the post of Prime Minister is reserved for Mr Amr Moussa who did not stand for President against popular expectations.
The fact is that Egypt is in crisis and a Presidential election is not going to solve anything. The fastest and most effective way to cure the country’s current woes is national reconciliation and coexistence in a democratic process. Now, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, we find that the April 6 group has also been outlawed.
In a little over two weeks’ time, Egypt’s elections will place the country back under an iron fist. Under the banner of security and stability we will see a rash of summary executions and thousands imprisoned. Whilst it is true that Field Marshall al-Sisi appears on the television wearing a smart civilian suit, his mind remains in uniform.