Nasserist candidate Sabbahi in the eyes of intellectuals, artists

Ati Metwaly, Sunday 13 May 2012

Candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi made a brief speech at a monthly meeting with renowned author Alaa El-Aswani who endorsed him for president; some artists speak with Ahram Online expressing their support and others their caution

Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi (left) and writer and activist Alaa Al Aswany (right) at El Sawy Culturewheel, 10 May 2012

Presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi made a brief appearance at a monthly meeting with renowned Egyptian author, Alaa El-Aswani, who endorsed his candidacy last week.

The crowd gathered at El-Sawy Culturewheel's River Hall welcomed the presidential hopeful with chants of: "This is the president!"

During his surprise appearance at the forum on Thursday, 10 May, Sabbahi made a speech that lasted a few short minutes.

"We need to free all those imprisoned for their opinions," Sabbahi charged.

The audience applauded and responded with chants of: "Down with the military rule!"

"Those people are from our nation," the candidate continued. "And the nation has to give them the deserved recognition."

Further on, Sabbahi referred to one of his recent meetings with Egyptian women, where among them he met some mothers of those killed during the revolution.

"As a president, I will enter the presidential palace only hand-in-hand with all the mothers of the revolution's martyrs," he said.

Sabbahi thanked Alaa El-Aswani for hosting him, referring to the writer as a renowned Egyptian intellectual and creator.

Former member of parliament and founder of the Arab Nasserist party, Al-Karama, co-founder of Kefaya (Enough) movement, jailed several times during his political career, Hamdeen Sabbahi remains one of the hot topics among the artists and intellectuals, many of whom support the presidential hopeful. However, others remain skeptical.

Bahaa Taher, a renowned Egyptian novelist is one of the Sabbahi's supporters. He finds that the candidate is closest closest to the revolution. "For decades, Hamdeen Sabbahi played an active political role in the country and is an important opposition figure in Egypt's political arena," Taher commented to Ahram Online.

During the 1981 crackdown on politicians, intellectuals and activists, Sabbahi was among the 1500 arrested. Taher comments that "Sabbahi was initiating, supporting and participating in all forms of opposition against the oppressive regime. He emerges from within his people and his candidacy is not born from an opportunity created by new political circumstances."

Taher adds that Sabbahi's platform responds to the current needs of the country and its people.

According to sources, among other important public figures that support Hamdeen Sabbahi are media professional and known Nasserist political thinker Hamdi Qandil, well-known comedian Mohamed Sobhi, prominent actor Nabil El-Halafawy and director Khaled Youssef.

According to sources, another prominent actor, Khaled El-Sawy urged his fans through social media platforms to support Hamdeen Sabbahi because he considers him "a candidate who supports the January 25 Revolution." El-Sawy added that Sabbahi is the only presidential hopeful that can assure Egypt's transition to a real democratic state.

As much as the aforementioned, and several other artists and intellectuals find in Sabbahi traits that they're looking for in a president, views are not unified and several intellectuals express their concerns regarding the candidate and the elections as a whole.

Though he considers Sabbahi to be the "safest option," Omar El-Fayoumy, renowned painter, contemplates boycotting the elections. If he votes, Sabbahi would be "the best among all bad candidates." El-Fayoumy says he respects Sabbahi and sees in him many valuable qualities, and just like Taher, he finds in Sabbahi a candidate that comes from the Egyptian people. El-Fayoumy does not agree, however, on a number of the candidate's statements. "Pan-Arab unification is not the main concern when Egypt is struggling with an endless list of national issues that need to be addressed as top priority," El-Fayoumy commented to Ahram Online.

Coming from a family of farmers and fishermen in Balteem, Sabbahi hopes to adopt some of Gamal Abdel Nasser's visions, such as creating stronger relations among Arabs and returning pride to the least-privileged social strata.

However, Tarek Ali Hassan, thinker, writer, poet and musician is worried about the dogmas - whether they be political or religious - that he finds dominate all the presidential candidates' speeches. Hassan does not wish to comment on any specific presidential candidate, but when speaking about the Nasserist era, he is concerned about another element characteristic to those days: dictatorship and army rule.

It is apparent that Sabbahi gained approbation from a considerable number of artists and intellectuals. Others, however, remain skeptical. There are also those who reject the elections as a whole. "I don’t approve of any of the candidates. We have to establish the constitution before we can elect a president. It is all a big joke," comments Nehad Selaiha, professor of theatrical arts and theatre critic. Without a concrete constitution, many object to the idea of instating a president whose authorities have yet to be laid out.

Prior to Sabbahi's visit to El Sawy Culturewheel, Alaa El-Aswani had already announced his support for Sabbahi on Twitter on 9 May.

Following Sabbahi's appearance, El-Aswani continued with his speech, which revolved around issues of "organised and planned massacres of the Egyptians" as El-Aswani refers to attacks and clashes that took place on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November 2011, in front of the parliament in December 2011, in Port Said in February 2012 and most recently in Abbasiya.

El-Aswani has also raised the issue of the nations' pride, which he says is consequently attacked by those willing to suppress all the revolutionary movements, demonstrations and any sort of opposition to the ruling forces.

Alaa El-Aswani holds regular Thursday forums in a variety of Cairo locations, among them: El Sawy Culturewheel, El Shababeek Culture Centre and at the premises of Al Ghad party.

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