Egypt's intellectuals content after Sabahi meeting

Randa Ali , Monday 19 May 2014

Some attendees of presidential contender Hamdeen Sabahi's encounter with thinkers expressed criticism of rival candidate El-Sisi's meeting with artists

Hamdeen Sabbahi
Presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi (center) during his meeting with intellectuals in Egypt (Photo courtesy of Sabahi's official campaign)

Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi has met a number of Egyptian artists and intellectuals – including writers, filmmakers and actors – as part of a series of encounters with various representatives of society.

During the meeting held late on Sunday, Sabahi called on those boycotting the elections to reconsider, saying that while “I respect, sympathise and understand those speaking of boycotting, I find no point of it at the moment.”

“If we were to speak of culture, the core of culture is to favour the power of thought – without which the January 25 revolution would not have been possible – over dry considerations,” Sabahi said, adding that culture must always be the “light during times of darkness, challenging what appears to be impossible”.

Expressing satisfaction with the meeting, playwright Hatem Hafez said the majority of attendees supported the Nasserist candidate, with the exception of a few who remained hesitant between voting for Sabahi and boycotting the presidential elections.

“We talked about the intellectuals' vision for the future and Sabahi spoke of his plans for a cultural revolution in Egypt, a mission he says will be carried out by at least seven ministries, including those of education, youth, culture and scientific research,” Hafez said.

For his part, novelist Mahmoud El-Wardani told Ahram Online that the meeting, which he described as more of a friendly session, tackled issues of concern to intellectuals in Egypt, like freedom of expression, the status of culture and its relationship with education.

El-Wardani, who will be voting for Sabahi in the presidential poll, said the leftist candidate evidenced precise awareness of the status of culture in Egypt.

Egypt’s presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 26 and 27 May, featuring only Sabahi and former minister of defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

On Sunday, Sabahi’s rival El-Sisi also held a meeting with Egyptian artists -- most of whom, according to media reports, were high-profile actors and actresses.

Speaking to privately-owned Sada El-Balad TV channel after the El-Sisi meeting, singer and composer Mostafa Kamel praised the former army chief, finding him well-informed of all happenings in the country, including art.

El-Wardani, however, criticised El-Sisi's meeting with artists, saying that its attendees posed as supporters rather than artists keen on hearing the candidate’s vision for art and culture in the country.

“I am not comparing El-Sisi to Mubarak, but he seems to be functioning like him; when Mubarak wanted to meet people, he’d request that some be brought over -- and they were usually those who didn't stir any trouble,” said Hafez, adding that he only became aware of an invitation having been extended to intellectuals when he read about it in the news late on Sunday night.

Hafez stressed that the situation was reversed with Sabahi.

“Meeting Sabahi is like sitting at a cafe; everyone has the right to express his opinion. During the Sunday session, some told him they would not be voting him. This will not happen in meetings with El-Sisi,” the playwright asserted.

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