Strong words were thrown at Egypt’s Islamists during the launch of the Egyptian Popular Current by Hamdeen Sabbahi – popular leftist candidate who came in 3rd in the tight presidential race.
Dozens of banners lined the edges of the central avenue of Cairo’s historic downtown Abdeen Square late on Friday as hundreds upon hundreds converged to show their support for the newly-established political coalition: the Egyptian Popular Current.
Created by the dark horse of the country’s 2012 presidential race and long-time Nasserist activist, Hamdeen Sabbahi, the current was launched Friday night in the presence of a host of public figures and thousands of supporters. Sabbahi went “lone-wolf” during the presidential elections instead of allying with other leftist candidates in an extremely tight race where he finished third behind Ahmed Shafiq and eventual president Mohamed Morsi.
The Egyptian Popular Current poses itself as an all-encompassing national movement. Hussein Abdel Ghani, the pro-revolution Egyptian journalist who moderated the event, described the current at the ceremony’s commencement as espousing “the essence of the Egyptian national movement’s patriotism, which started over 130 years ago.”
Hussein referred to the movement led by officer Ahmed Orabi in the 1880s demanding the promotion of Egyptian officers to higher ranks in the military (instead of the then-ruling Turkish officers) and protesting increasing European influence in the country.
Among the myriad of politicians, intellectuals, artists, religious leaders, the families of those killed throughout the 2011 uprising and the general public were prominent journalist and known Mubarak opponent, Hamdy Qandil; legal pundit Noha El-Zeiny; head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and labour activist Kamal Abu-Eita and pastor of the Virgin Mary and Mar Mina Church in Sharqiya province, Yoannes Ishak.
Many others – including personalities from Egypt’s Sinai province and the southern-most Nubia – attended, as well as former president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son, Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser and, of course, Hamdeen Sabbahi himself.
As speakers took to the podium to address the packed square, it became clear that the current was posing itself as a counterweight to the Islamists who have recently dominated Egypt’s top political institutions, including the now-dissolved parliament. President Morsi also hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, the most potent Islamist group in Egypt.
Journalist Hamdy Qandil, the first of the speakers, urged supporters to mobilise for “a major political battle soon to be waged” in the coming parliamentary elections, saying that no political group will be able to change Egypt’s diverse makeup.
Taking Qandil’s remarks a step further, Kamal Abu-Eita reminded the audience that Egypt had been occupied time and again, yet the conquerors were never able to change the nature of the Egyptian people.
Abu-Eita pointed out workers’ surprise those who ruled after the revolution have nothing to do with those who have a true interest in the revolution.
“They [the rulers] are only interested in their group’s agenda,” charged Abu-Eita, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood and their political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, who fielded Mohamed Morsi as their presidential candidate and won.
“They are not interested in the revolution’s programme, nor the programme of the workers and farmers,” he added.
Abu-Eita asserted that revolutionary pillars, such as freedom, social justice and unity are receding rather than progressing after the revolution.
During his turn to speak, former MP Mustafa El-Guindy, the coordinator of the popular delegation that visited Ethiopia and Uganda, commented that the large, motley gathering at the Popular Current’s launch is testament that the burden of ruling cannot be carried by a single faction, but should be lifted by all Egyptians.
“We approached them but they want to carry it themselves,” said El-Guindy.
The Popular Current is introducing itself and willing to share the burden of ruling, he added, with the caveat that rights, duties and a constitution stipulating them is established, asserting that only common Egyptians can dictate what those rights and duties are.
El-Guindy then attacked the Constituent Assembly that is currently drafting the Egyptian constitution. “Your Assembly is null and void, since the common Egyptian isn’t part of it,” El-Guindy yelled, to the pleasure of the crowd.
The Constituent Assembly is widely perceived as being dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party.
The Popular Current is calling for unity: Muslim and Christians, residents of Sinai and Nubians, stressed El-Guindy. “A constitution being drawn up in secret, without the will of the Egyptian people, is invalid,” he concluded to the chants of “a constitution for all Egyptians, workers and farmers, doctors and teachers, men and women, youth and students.”
Prominent leftist activist and Workers and Peasants Party co-founder Kamal Khalil opened his speech in line with El-Guindy’s, declaring the constitution’s invalidity.
Taking a swing at the Muslim Brotherhood, Khalil said those who want to remove subsidies from basic goods, who are concerned about borrowing from abroad and who are not taking any serious steps to achieve social justice have no right to draw up Egypt’s constitutions.
“Egypt’s constitution cannot be void of the economic and social rights of its citizens,” said Khalil, attacking the Brotherhood for not freeing Egypt’s detained revolutionaries, shutting down arbitrary state security courts nor putting Mubarak and his regime through a serious trial.
“The constitution is the constitution of the revolution and cannot be written by those who stole the revolution, you thieves” cried Khalil, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of being “remnants of the old regime.”
Taking the heat off the Brotherhood, Sabbahi’s much-awaited speech was focused on the movement itself. Welcomed by supportive chants, Sabbahi hailed the supporters of the current, who he described as being “workers, farmers, craftsmen, fishermen, producers, middle class, Muslims, Copts, Sinai residents, Nubians, country folk, city dwellers, men, women, old and young,” stressing the Popular Current encompasses all patriotic Egyptians.
“We are the soldiers of the January 25 Revolution, who believe in the unity of our modern history, the sons of the July 23 Revolution, the grandchildren of the 1919 great revolution,” Sabbahi told a cheering audience.
“We Egyptians, who believe in the goals of the January 25 Revolution – freedom, social justice and human dignity – will not compromise a single one of its goals,” continued Sabbahi. He stressed that the Popular Current is made up of those who are determined to achieve revolutionary goals, who swore not to betray blood of the “martyrs” who died during the revolution, those who belong to the villages and average Egyptian neighbourhoods; sons of the vulnerable and poor.
Sabbahi then formally announced the establishment of the Egyptian Popular Current, explaining that he is not the movement’s leader. Sabbahi insisted it is a grassroots movement starting at the “base of the Egyptian pyramid – not at its summit,” and encouraged its supporters to start its work in villages and neighbourhoods.
The members should immerse themselves in servicing their respective community, setting up cooperatives to solve the bread crisis and unemployment, establishing cultural centres, playing sport and talking politics. The Egyptian Popular Current is not a party, it is popular organisation for every Egyptian and can accommodate members of other parties, said Sabbahi.
The current is not based on ideology – despite our respect for the role of ideology – Sabbahi explained, but rather is established on the basis of Egypt’s national movement, religion without fundamentalism and the revolution.
“The Egyptian Popular Current will strive to become a serious partner in building an Egyptian national front, bringing together all Egyptian political forces, movements and parties hoping to achieve all the revolution’s ends and seeking social justice,” stated Sabbahi.
Concluding his speech, the former presidential hopeful saluted the newly-formed leftist group, the Revolutionary Democratic Coalition, the recently recognised Constitution Party founded by founded by reform campaigner and ex-IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, as well as all parties espousing the revolution’s principles.
The Popular Current will coordinate with other parties and coalitions in Egypt’s coming parliamentary polls, hoping to create an electoral front, Sabbahi said at the conclusion. Previous political mistakes, he asserted, will be amended by uniting in one national movement.