• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:00am

Leftist leader Sabahi to run for Egyptian presidency

Decision of leftist, who finished third in 2012 contest, offers a ray of hope to the disenchanted youth who helped topple Mubarak and Mursi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 2014, 4:47am

A leading left-wing Egyptian politician has announced that he will contest the presidential elections, set to be a tough battle for anyone squaring off against the country's powerful army chief, expected to win a sweeping victory.

Hamdeen Sabahi's decision heats up an election slated for this spring, and opens a window of hope to the country's largely disenchanted youth, who rose up against two presidents in the past three years - first against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, then the Islamist Mohammed Mursi.

"I have taken this personal decision to enter the presidential battle," Sabahi roared among his supporters on Saturday. "The revolution must reach power democratically and stand as one line against terrorism."

Sabahi, who finished an impressive third in the June 2012 presidential election, appeals to a range of liberal, leftist and secular-minded Egyptians who reject both military and Islamist rule. He is seen as a political rookie, however.

The announcement comes as a nationalist fervour grips the country, largely in support of Defence Minister Abdel Fatah el-Sissi. Critics of the military face strong intimidation.

El-Sissi led the military coup that deposed Mursi last July after millions marched to demand his resignation. He has yet to publicly declare his intentions but the military has backed him.

In previous TV appearances, Sabahi said he was holding off on his decision until el-Sissi decided whether he would run. But on Saturday he said he would be a candidate in response to demands from the youth. Sabahi, founder of the Popular Current group, was an opposition leader under Mursi. A journalist and sometimes actor, he has sent assuring messages to the military and el-Sissi supporters while disassociating himself from Mursi supporters and Mubarak loyalists.

"There will be no tolerance to a corrupt regime and its symbols, not to Mubarak and not with the repressive regime of Mursi and his group," he said.

During the 2012 campaign, Sabahi saw a last-minute surge in popularity after campaigning on promises to help the poor that harkened back to the nationalist, socialist ideology of Gamel Abdel-Nasser, Egypt's president from 1956 to 1970.

The bid comes amid a military-led offensive against Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula and continued clashes between police and Mursi supporters, who hold scattered demonstrations that frequently deteriorate into violence.

The military has been waging a wide offensive against militant groups in Sinai, where they have solidified their position since the country's 2011 uprising.

Militancy has spread to central Cairo and Nile Delta cities over the past months in retaliation for Mursi's ouster.

Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali said on his official Facebook page that air strikes on Friday targeted hideouts of terrorist, extremely dangerous takfiri" militants late on Friday in the eastern border town of Sheikh Zuweyid. Takfiri is an Arabic term referring to Islamic radicals. The military said 16 suspected militants were kiiled in the air strikes.

He described the targeted militants as affiliated with the "terrorist" Brotherhood group. The group denies links to terrorism but the military-backed government has branded it a terrorist organisation, amid a heavy-handed crackdown.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands are in detention mostly over crimes of inciting violence.


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