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Sabahi: Egyptians will feel instant change if I am president

Egypt's presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi tells the daily Al-Ahram Arabic newspaper he will amend the controversial protest law on his first day in office if he wins the vote

Ahram Online , Thursday 22 May 2014
Hamdeen Sabahi
Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of Al-Karama party and presidential candidate (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt's leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi said his first day in office, where he to win the elections, would see him amend a protest law staunchly opposed by political groups and activists, the daily Al-Ahram Arabic newspaper quoted him as saying in an interview.

Sabahi – the only contender running against former army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi – told his interviewer that change would be felt early on, in contrast to statements repeatedly made by El-Sisi in which the latter asserted that two years would need to pass before Egyptians could sense a difference in their lives. 

Amending the law, Sabahi said, requires neither budget nor resources.

Sabahi spoke in detail about the current protest law – passed by the Egyptian government in November – saying he believes it is being used against peaceful protesters and activists who took part in the 25 January and 30 June uprisings. 

Although, Sabahi asserted, protests do need to be organised in an orderly fashion, the current law practically "prevents" demonstrations altogether, he said, which is why he would amend it on his first day in office.

Additionally, he criticised the performance of police forces, saying a philosophy of collective punishment is being implemented against protesters. Violent protesters, Sabahi elaborated, must be singled out and arrested, as the random arrests and violence – especially in universities – are breeding much anger and a sentiment of injustice, he warned.

"Like them, I too have taken part in protests and been detained. I feel their pain," he said. 

In the case of university protests, Sabahi was careful to set most of the students opposed to police practices apart from Muslim Brotherhood students, whom he said were a minority used by their leaders for political ends.

He reiterated that he will not hold any dialogue with the Brotherhood or its affiliated youths if he became president. 

Egypt's interim government designated the Brotherhood a terrorist group in December, a move endorsed by a court ruling shortly afterwards.

Sabahi also spoke of his strategy to combat poverty, corruption and discrimination, as well as his plans for the economy, healthcare and education.

Commenting on the results of the expat vote which ended on Monday -- wherein El-Sisi's overwhelming 95.5% share of the ballots dealt Sabahi a hard blow -- the Nasserist candidate said "These results do not necessarily reflect the internal voting trend."

Sabahi was sure to remind that the final results of the 2012 presidential elections' first round had placed him third in the race despite his having come in fifth in the expat poll.

He also expressed that his hopes for a higher turnout were dashed, as he had expected a larger number of expats to vote, given the facilitations granted by the Presidential Electoral Commission – which included doing away with prior registration on voters' lists, as had been stipulated in previous elections.

Becoming prime minister

As for post-election plans in case of an electoral defeat, Sabahi replied to his interviewers' query with the assertion that he would continue to strive for the implementation of his programme from the ranks of the opposition. 

Sabahi stated he would turn down executive positions, such as that of vice president, adding that he may – tentatively – accept the position of prime minister, should a parliamentary majority nominate him for the post as per the constitution.

Al-Ahram's first page headline read that Sabahi would accept the position of prime minister if he lost the presidency, prompting his campaign to issue a statement denying their candidate had made any such claims and stressing that he would not accept any executive position by appointment.

Elections in Egypt are scheduled for 26 and 27 May.

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