The Hamdeen Argument

The summer of 2011 must’ve been an incredible time for Hamdeen Sabbahi. He was one of the darlings of the revolution, known as a left-leaning Nasserist (whatever that means), ignored only by the hardcore revolutionaries who would only rubber-stamp a batter front-liner, but mostly admired, and generally just liked by almost everybody else. He was tight with what you could, with some effort, call the civil leaders of the revolution, although most of them were not so much leading as doing their damnest to keep up with the street, and with Tahrir – but he was in.

Remember this?

Hamdeen1 (Custom)

I have no idea who took this picture, but look at it for a few seconds…this was in the summer of 2011, whatever credit Tantawi and SCAF had acquired at the start of the revolution was already starting to wear thin, and Hamdeen was, literally, riding on a wave of revolutionary youth. Whatever you may think of Hamdeen – that image literally made an icon out of him.

Now, here we are – three years later – and Hamdeen is generally sneered at, mocked, he is dismissed as being soft, as being too pro-army, as being desperate for the presidency, and now – with the Sisi is Nasser rhetoric – is seen as a Nasserite competing with a Nasser.

This is an understandable position if you’re pro-army, or if you’re generally in a position to have linked interests with the regime. This is understandable if you’re a staunch capitalist who distrusts even the notion of any leftist reforms, but it is certainly less clear if you’re a revolutionary who is against army rule…

The simple fact is this; people’s positions towards Hamdeen Sabbahi have changed a lot more than Hamdeen’s positions themselves have. Somehow he has lost most of the support that gave him around 5 million votes in 2012’s presidential elections.

How did this happen?

In other words; how is it possible that so many of those opposed to military rule are not planning to vote for the only candidate that is neither a Field Marshal or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? How is that the case?

I mean – sure – Hamdeen lost some people in late 2011, when he took it upon himself to state that chanting ‘Down with Military Rule’ was not “useful”, but that is a point of contention with a select few. It’s true that many of the criticisms leveled at Hamdeen might be true, but the point is, they were equally true when you voted for him back in 2012.

So, it’s worth asking – what’s changed?

Has the media campaign against him been that effective? Have we all just mostly fallen into it without wondering why our positions have changed so much? Unless you’ve consciously made a choice to boycott the elections, how could you not vote for Hamdeen? I can even understand a small segment of spite-voters who have the military and yet, will go vote for Sisi, just to give him even more rope, but those are certainly a minority….

What happened?

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    Interesting topic. As a non-Egyptian who has been very interested in the country since watching Mubarak’s final sham election and especially the 2011 revolution (extremely dismayed with how things have failed to live up to the revolution’s goals, though), I have taken an interest in Hamdeen Sabahi’s trajectory. In the 2012 election, I suspected that this guy was being underestimated by fraudulent polls; even that he might have a chance of reaching the run-off.
    Would you say that there is an opportunity for Sabahi to rebuild support by trying to exploit apprehension about Sisi’s looming economic policies and dictatorial approach? As in, support, from those who haven’t reached the point of rejecting the system but are distraught by the attacks against striking workers, lack of concern for the healthcare crisis, etc.? What about in Upper Egypt?
    As far as I can tell, it seems that trying to stake out a middle, compromise, or centrist position (not that Sabahi would be considered a centrist) doesn’t work well in Egyptian politics. In this case, many of the revolutionaries apparently prefer to boycott or believe that Sabahi is running to act as a fig leaf for Sisi. Meanwhile, the Sisi cultists (apparently a fairly large, though diminishing, base) can be counted on to vote en mass for Sisi, no matter how much the rest of the population hates the man.
    The odds are heavily stacked against Sabahi, but what do you think that the true elites who rule the state would do if somehow it turned out that Sabahi would actually win a contest with Sisi? I cannot imagine them accepting such an outcome. The risk for the government may be low, but can these people really just accept betting on an uncertain outcome, even with a managed risk? Might they have some sort of plan to rig the result or tamper with the ballots if things don’t seem to be going according to plan?
    Hypothetically, Sabahi gaining the presidency would be a deadly problem for their agenda. Even if he is being used as a fig leaf, it would totally mess up their plans and introduce a new element that could act as a gateway for the fulfillment of grudges against the ruling clique.
    In any case, it seems wildly implausible that Sisi can retain much popularity once he becomes the president and his true agenda becomes too evident. Then, there is also the upcoming debacle that will be the parliamentary “election.” The fight over the electoral system, as well as escalating banning of political movements, will be a huge problem. Not to mention that Sisi cannot afford a parliament with too many hostile individuals and thus will likely do everything possible to craft a legislature to his own liking, even if that means calling back more of Mubarak’s minions.

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      While I certainly agree that Sabahi could probably make some headway with those who are against Sisi or, consciously, just sick of military rule (although even a Sabahi win wouldn’t accomplish that) – but it’s also true that by being vague with his intentions for so long, Sisi effectively sabotaged the run up to elections (I’ve tweeted on this, but haven’t blogged the notion, I think) – he created a basic fog of war that (because they’re idiots) kept all the other candidates from campaigning, and the result? Now they have too little damn time.

      I absolutely believe, like you say some revolutionaries do, and have tweeted directly to Hamdeen, telling him that he is now – functionally – nothing but a fig leaf. I’ve used that exact metaphor. I boycotted the last elections, and can’t talk myself into feeling that these ones are legitimate either, however, my post here is specifically addressing those who DO think the elections are legitimate, who are not ‘active’ boycott-ers, and who have (possibly?) allowed themselves to be swayed so much by their disappointment, their depression, and the regime’s media, to slowly turn on Sabahi despite the fact that he really has held, more or less, the same positions. It makes no sense. If I were a 100% rational creature, I would probably go vote for Sabahi, but I’m not – and I feel nothing but rage for this regime, and I cannot accept their elections as anything but a sham.

      We’re in for a crap ride until the spell wears off.

  2. This is exactly that circulates on my mind. Now, I can understand why pro-Sisi supporters would bash him for opposing the military and Mubarak regime (some even came out with the conspiracy theory nut-job claiming he sided with the Brotherhood) but I don’t get why the young radical revolutionaries would do the same thing against him and even look down upon him. Do they know that this is the same guy who once courageously hold national debate with Anwar Sadat during his college days? Do they know this guy was jailed 17 times for opposing Sadat and Mubarak regimes? Do they know that while he publicly “supported” the military, he quietly promised to bring Al-Sisi to trial if he is elected?

    If there’s ever a candidate that would represent a true civilian Nasserist nationalist who opposes both the oppressive military and religious rule as well as upholding the principles of the Egyptian revolution that comes by the slogan of bread, freedom, and social justice, Sabahi would be the answer. I strongly believe that the only way to stop Sisi from winning is when revolutionary youths will stop talking about boycott the elections and start voting for Sabahi. As for those anti-Mubarak people who now supports Sisi, it’s obvious they never learn from the lesson of 1979 Iranian Revolution. If their dear Sisi gets elected, I hope these same groupies won’t cry and regret about voting him when he starts his brutal repression.

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      Speaking for myself, Sabahi lost me in late 2011, when he took it upon himself to declare that “Down with Military Rule” was not a ‘constructive’ chant. Other than that, I see his position as being fairly consistent, if, for me, unimpressive. Nasserist doesn’t mean anything to me, there is no ‘idealogy’ – there’s a memory and a nostalgia for an old underachieving mustached military guy. HAD I decided to vote last time, I would’ve voted for Hamdeen, but I would’ve been absolutely unsatisfied,and would know that I’m casting my vote for the lesser of the idiots. My point in this blog post, is that unless you’re ‘actively’ boycotting, logic compels a Hamdeen vote.

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