Formerly in the leadership of a party that has chosen to avoid disputes by allowing its members to make independent choices on whom to support in Egypt's upcoming presidential elections, Ayman Aboul-Ela sided with the camp within the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) opting for Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi — the presidential runner critics from within the ESDP's ranks charge pays little attention to the cause of social democracy.
Together with several ESDP members who support El-Sisi, Aboul-Ela decided to join the liberal Free Egyptians Party instead, which openly backs the former army chief.
Aboul-Ela is fully aware that his choice is not one that hardcore revolutionary forces would qualify as either right or principled. However, he says, his criteria are basic and clear: “I am voting for the person I think is able to get a good grasp of things and to redirect state affairs in a way that would allow for social democracy to prevail, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
For Aboul-Ela, “El-Sisi is the right man to be in charge at this very confusing point in time. He has what it takes for leadership, both in terms of personal capacity, character and charisma, and in terms of state and wide and unprecedented public support.”
Aboul-Ela is not willing to accept what he qualifies as “ready-made and superficial accusations” in relation to the association of El-Sisi with the military establishment, in contrast with the call for a civil democratic state that all revolutionary forces — including his own party — have been requesting.
“Well, the president has to come from somewhere. I see nothing wrong that he comes from the heart of one of the most trusted establishments of the state,” Aboul-Ela said.
He added: “I think that those who are suggesting that he would turn Egypt into a military state are jumping the gun on a man who has yet to show us what he really is willing to offer. They are also underestimating the influence of the people to force their will, which they have been doing over and again in the last three years.”
Aboul-Ela is “not willing to assume of El-Sisi what El-Sisi has not done.”
“In principle, I think he would be able to deliver. I am not opposed, however, to being proven wrong. But I have to see what he would do. If the presidential and parliamentary elections are conducted free and fair and if the constitution is transformed into laws that are respected, and if the partnership that the constitution refers to between the president and prime minister is honoured, and if the role of parliament is truly observed, then we should assume to be on the right track regardless of where the president is coming from,” he argues.
In the same line of thinking, Aboul-Ela is not willing to pay much attention to critics who say that El-Sisi was the chief of military intelligence under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by the January 25 revolution after three decades in power.
“Let us face it: Mubarak ruled for a long 30 years, so we were all there one way or another when he was in office. Hamdeen Sabahi (who is contesting the elections with El-Sisi) was also an MP in parliaments during the Mubarak years and he communicated in this capacity with Mubarak’s governments and ministers,” Aboul-Ela argues.
As far as many in the ESDP are concerned, El-Sisi is “a serious and patriotic man who offered his support to the nation when it chose to remove a failed president and who openly supported the January 25 revolution and was instrumental on 30 June  and has the faith and support of the majority of Egyptians.”
Further, Aboul-Ela is not willing to discount El-Sisi on the basis that he has not yet offered a coherent electoral programme.
“We should not overdo the comparison between this presidential vote and the one we had in 2012. This time we have elections conducted on the basis of a constitution that clearly stipulates that the president not pursue a programme separate from the will and views of the majority party in a parliament that will be in charge of nominating the prime minister and government. And El-Sisi did offer the guidelines for his vision,” he argues.
Meanwhile, Aboul-Ela shrugs warnings made in democracy and human rights quarters on the "perceived" intention of El-Sisi to compromise gains made on these fronts in the wake of 25 January 2011 — as some say is suggested in the "guidelines" El-Sisi has offered since the beginning of campaigning 2 May.
“Not true. What he is asserting is the thing that the vast majority of Egyptians want to hear: that he as president will make sure that the state will stand up to the security challenge and will act to quell terrorism. This is what people want and this is what he is promising them,” the former ESDP leading member said.
As for the statement that El-Sisi made to the effect of his intention to "eradicate" the Muslim Brotherhood, Aboul-Ela argues that this, too, “is the will of the majority of Egyptians who have been so dismayed by the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and later so scared by the terror threats they made. It was the Muslim Brotherhood who opted for this sad end for their relation with the Egyptian people that had always perceived members of this group as God-fearing, only to learn through tough experience that they are a power-starved group."
“You cannot blame El-Sisi for the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the leadership of the group that committed all the errors that led the group and the entire country astray,” Aboul-Ela asserts.
As for the stand that El-Sisi took in support of the controversial protest law, Aboul-Ela is willing to argue that “it is not necessary to make a big issue out of the matter, simply because it would be up to the next parliament to address this law and fix articles that human rights and legal quarters find incompatible with the constitution. The president would not be able to stop this.”
Democratic transformation, Aboul-Ela argues, is never an easy process and “what counts at the end of the day is that the elected president honours the constitution that was voted in by the nation, and would deal with all citizens equally upon the mandate of the constitution. If he follows the constitution, he cannot go astray. And if he does not, he knows very well that the nation would not take injustice again. This is the bottom line.”