What is Sabbahi’s alternative?

Three days after former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi issued a statement calling on political powers to form a “civilian alternative” to the current political situation, there remain many unanswered questions regarding his initiative’s goals, political orientation and members.

Sabbahi’s March 4 statement was issued in cooperation with the founders of the Karama (Dignity) Party and the Popular Current Party, both of which he has led, and was signed by the Preparation Committee to Unite Civil Forces — a new initiative which, presumably, Sabbahi intends to act as this “alternative.” But little is known about the committee. Its coordinator Tarek Saeed said that it includes “a large number of leading members of the Karama Party and the Popular Current, in addition to intellectuals and independent politicians,” according to the Parlmany website (an offshoot of the privately owned Youm7 newspaper dedicated to parliamentary news), but the identity of most of these members is not known.

Sabbahi said the initiative aims to “unite the Popular Current and the Karama Party and open the door for independent politicians to join, as well as attempt to strengthen the Civil Democratic Current as a political front,” Youm7 reported.

The initiative aims to include those who do not necessarily belong to a particular political group, but would like to join “a large front that includes civil political parties and civil society organizations,” says Saeed, who is a leading member of the Karama Party.

Pressing questions have also arisen around the committee’s actual goals — particularly as it comes two years before the next presidential elections and just a couple months after the parliamentary elections, leading some to wonder if the committee is going to call for an early presidential race.

On the Sunday episode of his talk show “Al-Qahera al-Youm” (Cairo Today), aired on the privately owned Orbit channel, TV host Amr Adeeb claimed that Sabbahi told him directly, “I am not calling for early presidential elections, I am calling for no more than the gathering of civil powers.”

However, other committee members have responded to the question less directly. “The committee aims to take part in all elections in an attempt to pressure the government to consolidate respectable foundations for the political process,” says Saeed.

Taking a more skeptical tone, fellow committee member Ammar Ali Hassan cautions that “you cannot ignore the clear difference between the strength of the regime and the strength of its opposition.”

“The regime has all the tools of the state, and has the ability to fund advertising and promote its rhetoric,” Hassan continues. “The opposition is deprived of this funding and is chasing anyone who would donate to an opposition political party. Based on that, I cannot imagine [that civil forces would have] the ability to take part in the elections.”

Stepping aside from the question of contesting seats in government, Hassan explains that the initiative is “aiming to work as a group in order to negotiate with the regime.”

The committee’s stance on elections — and when to have them — is not the only mystery shrouding the new group. Its members appear divided on multiple fronts, including their respective takes on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration.

Saeed maintains that “the current government is not a military regime, even if the president has a military background. The army is in its barracks.”

But Hassan contends that Sisi is ruling Egypt under “an old alliance that includes the military institution, the security apparatus, businessmen, well-connected people in rural areas and media mouthpieces.”

“The president has reached a point where he believes he is ruling unilaterally and he has the sole word,” Hassan adds, referring to a recent speech in which Sisi called on the people to “listen to no one” but him.

Sabbahi’s Friday statement seemed to want to please all the parties that he hopes to unite in the new committee. It includes a fleeting reference to the need to “overcome the mistakes of the past,” without mentioning what those mistakes are — but Saeed claims they include the “inability of civil powers to unite in a way that has let the Egyptian people down, which is what the initiative is hoping to overcome by calling for a large political front.”

The initiative will fight for the demands of “the glorious January 25 revolution in 2011, and its great wave on June 30, 2013,” according to Sabbahi’s statement. Saeed explains that “acknowledging January and June is a main condition to be able to join the new initiative. It is true that certain powers hijacked the June movement, but that does not mean we must disown our contributions and our history. The Muslim Brotherhood would not have left power if it hadn’t been overthrown on July 3, and the alternative would have been a wave of violence against its opposition.”

Mahmoud Ezzat — a member of the political committee for the Revolutionary Socialists movement — tells Mada Masr that referring to June 30 in this way indicates a desire to reunite the powers that allied before the 2013 protests against former President Mohamed Morsi, but who felt the subsequent political upheaval never answered their demands.

The Revolutionary Socialists, which took part in those protests, issued a controversial statement a few months ago that declared, “the June 30 protests succeeded in achieving its goal of removing the Muslim Brotherhood from authority — not for the sake of the January 25 revolution, but rather for the Mubarak state and the anti-revolution that has made a comeback in a vengeful manner.”

Strong Egypt Party member Mohamed al-Baker holds that the initiative described June 30 as a “revolutionary wave,” rather than as a revolution, in order to reach out to the youth who went down to the streets on June 30 but felt disenfranchised by all the events that followed.

But at the same time, the initiative refuses to revise its stance on June 30 and acknowledge its failures, Baker argues, adding that “June 30 to me is nothing but a coup.”

Hassan, in turns, contends that the current state of affairs represents the true coup committed against the ideals of the June 30 protests, which is evident in the government’s failure to abide by the Constitution, as stipulated by the transitional roadmap laid out by the military powers following Morsi’s fall.

“July 3, for example, witnessed a call for the Muslim Brotherhood themselves to take part in drafting the roadmap,” Hassan points out.

Baker notes that Sabbahi’s statement did not call for a reevaluation of the “role of the Muslim Brotherhood in political life, as an organization that has the right to political participation.”

But Hassan clarifies that he refuses to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood before the organization issues a clear and unified commitment to non-violence, and clarifies its stance on the International Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose work he claims is “crossing borders.”

Beesan Kassab 

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