On the campaign trail

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 21 Nov 2023

Presidential candidates are working on their election campaigns as Egyptians head to the polls in December, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

election campaigns as Egyptians head to the polls in December
election campaigns as Egyptians head to the polls in December


After campaigning for the 10 December presidential elections officially kicked off last week, the four candidates were keen to tour governorates and hold public rallies and TV interviews to explain their election platforms.

Incumbent President and candidate Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s campaign received huge support from the two political parties which have majorities in the two houses of parliament, Mostaqbal Watan and Homat Watan, and from the National Alliance of Civil Society Organisations which have offices across Egypt. Both held dozens of public rallies in several governorates and festooned streets in major cities and towns with giant posters and banners of Al-Sisi, raising slogans “Beloved by millions”, “We will complete the journey”, and “Long live Egypt”.

Essam Hilal, assistant secretary-general of Mostaqbal Watan, said the party’s decision to rally behind Al-Sisi’s campaign reflects its belief in the achievements that have been made by the president since he came to office in 2014. “President Al-Sisi restored security and stability to Egypt and put it on the road of progress and prosperity,” Hilal said.

Al-Sisi’s campaign manager Mahmoud Fawzi told a public rally in Alexandria on 15 November that the president is not in need of an election platform to introduce himself to Egyptians. President Al-Sisi’s achievements, said Fawzi, are well known to every Egyptian and in all sectors of development. “He defeated terrorism, restored Egypt’s internal stability and regional influence, rehabilitated the country’s infrastructure and fought informal housing,” Fawzi said.

In an interview with ON TV on 17 November, Fawzi said Al-Sisi strongly believes in political reform and openness. One year ago, he added, President Al-Sisi invited all political forces, including the opposition, to a national dialogue to discuss the country’s priorities for the coming six years and draw up a new national roadmap. “The call for national dialogue shows that the president wants all forces to contribute to the nation’s progress,” Fawzi said, noting that “all political and economic reforms that were recommended by the National Dialogue received an automatic ‘blanket sheet’ of approval from President Al-Sisi.”

President Al-Sisi will face challenges from three candidates: Farid Zahran, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Abdel-Sanad Yamama, head of the country’s oldest liberal party Wafd, and Hazem Omar, head of the People’s Republican Party.

Al-Sisi, seeking a third term that would extend his tenure to 2030, chose the star as his electoral symbol.

Senator Zahran was the second candidate after Al-Sisi to submit his papers to the National Election Authority (NEA) to run in the presidential elections in December.

Zahran toured the three governorates of Assiut, Giza, and Fayoum this week to outline his election platform. In Assiut, Zahran said his platform primarily calls for political reform and democratic rule. “My election platform reflects the positions of the Egyptian opposition whose demands are mainly focused on lobbying for political openness, respect of human rights, and freedom of speech,” said Zahran.

In Giza, Zahran said “political reform is a necessity to guaranteeing that the country does not face popular uprisings like the ones we saw in 2011 and 2013. “These uprisings which led to the ousting of two presidents were the result of lack of political reform and peaceful rotation of power,” said Zahran, noting that if he won the election, he would change the political landscape to create a more effective government, a powerful parliament and a truly democratic constitution. “I was against the constitutional amendments which took place in 2019 and I am against any future constitutional amendments that might allow the president to stay longer in power,” said Zahran. He also indicated that he is not against a market economy and privatisation, but that these two policies should not come at the expense of social justice.

Two political parties — the Adl and Reform and Development — declared their support for Zahran. Hossam Badrawi, a former Mubarak-era liberal politician and businessman, also announced his backing for Zahran. Badrawi said Zahran is the true voice of independent opposition which believes that political reform should be the nation’s number one priority in the coming years in Egypt.

Zahran, however, faced criticism from leftist politician and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who said the Civilian Democratic Movement (including an alliance of nine liberal and leftist political parties), believes that the election will be a “farce” because it lacks free competition and its result is a foregone conclusion. Zahran responded by freezing the party’s membership of the Civilian Democratic Movement.

Zahran, 66, was one of the most prominent leaders of Egypt’s 1970s student movement which fought for political reform and social justice. In 1977, he was arrested because of his active participation in the so-called “Bread Riots” which swept Cairo and other major cities in objection to the then government’s decision to raise food and fuel prices as part of a deal with the IMF.

Zahran graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Agriculture in 1981, and soon after became both a politician and a publisher. He is now board chairman of Al-Mahrousa Centre for Publication, Press Services, and Information. In 2007, Zahran was one of the founders of the leftist newspaper Al-Badil.

Zahran played a prominent role during the 25 January Revolution in 2011 and 30 June Revolution in 2013. In April 2016, he was elected leader of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party and in 2020 was appointed to the Senate by President Al-Sisi.

While Zahran represents leftist forces, Yamama represents liberal forces.

Yamama, 70, graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Law in 1974 and obtained a PhD in international law from the University of Nancy in France in 1988. He joined the Wafd in 2004 and was elected chairman in March 2022. He is currently a professor of international law in Menoufiya University.

Yamama used a public rally he held in Port Said city on Friday to explain his political and economic platform in detail. He said political reform should be the nation’s utmost priority in the coming stage. “Political reform is the way to resolve the country’s chronic economic problems,” Yamama said.

In a TV interview on Saturday, Yamama said in 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power he was a member of the Constituent Assembly which took charge of drafting the constitution. “But I decided to withdraw from the assembly because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s dictatorial practices,” said Yamama. He also said he is against the 2019 constitutional amendments which led to extending the president’s term in office from four to six years. “So political reform to me and the Wafd is not a luxury but a necessity as it is the way for true democracy and permanent stability,” said Yamama.

He said the first decision he will take in his first 100 days in power is to amend the constitution. “These amendments shall curtail the president’s powers, grant the Senate legislative powers and name a vice president,” said Yamama, indicating that if he won the ballot he would name a vice president and form a constituent assembly to amend the constitution or draft a new one. He said his political reform programme is also based on cutting the president’s term in office from six to four years. “It is not good that presidents stay in power for long periods and we saw how Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year in rule ended in chaos and instability,” Yamama said, also noting that “the number of political parties in Egypt should be cut down from 100 to just 10.” He also said that once he takes office, he would retire from the Wafd Party “as the president should deal with all forces on an equal footing.” He also said he is against the outlawed group of the Muslim Brotherhood, and does not approve of any kind of reconciliation with it. “But the only way to isolate this dark force is to implement true democracy in Egypt and prevent mixing religion with politics,” Yamama said.

Unlike Zahran and Yamama, the election platform of presidential candidate Omar is focused on economic reforms. In a press conference in East Cairo’s district of Nasr City on Friday, Omar, chairman of the People’s Republican Party (PRP), said his election platform aims to achieve five strategic objectives. Omar said the PRP is a moderate leftist party that is interested in protecting poor and average-income classes from the ravages of liberalisation policies. These two classes, Omar said, “are those most vulnerable who paid the dear price of market economy policies and privatisation deals with the IMF.”

Omar also said his election platform calls for democratic rule, respect of human rights, achieving social justice, and reinforcing Egypt’s active role in the Arab world, Africa and the Middle East region. He promised a “strong and resilient economy within three years of becoming president. He also promised to increase industrial and agricultural production and use the country’s resources in a more efficient way. Omar also promised to reduce the budget deficit and restructure the tax system. He also stressed that he is against reintegrating the Muslim Brotherhood into political life. “This group should dissolve itself and become a national force, rather than a religious force, in order to be allowed to join the political mainstream again,” said Omar.

Omar, 65, is a businessman who was among several founders of the PRP in September 2012. Omar was appointed to the Senate by President Al-Sisi in 2020. In 2021, he was elected chair of the Senate’s Arab, Foreign and African Affairs Committee.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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