Middle East

Hamdeen Sabahi: Egypt presidential candidate

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Media captionThe BBC's Orla Guerin joined Hamdeen Sabahi on the campaign trial in Banha, north of Cairo

Hamdeen Sabahi is a prominent left-wing politician and leader of the Egyptian Popular Current movement. He is one of only two candidates standing in Egypt's presidential election on 26-27 May.

Mr Sabahi's sole rival in the poll is former army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who played a key role in the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi and is widely expected to win.

Hamdeen Sabahi came third in Egypt's 2012 presidential election. He describes himself as the "upcoming president of a civilian democratic country", perhaps to emphasise the contrast with his opponent's military background.

"Firstly, our battle is against poverty, backwardness, corruption and tyranny," he told a crowd of cheering supporters when he announced his candidacy.

Mr Sabahi faces a tough race as Mr Sisi enjoys the backing of the traditional media and many political parties and movements. The former army chief is portrayed as a hero by his admirers for preventing the country from falling into further unrest.

'Deep change'

Mr Sabahi's campaign platform says he is in favour of social justice, freedom and rights for citizens under a "civilian democratic system".

"There is a need for a deep change in the way the country is managed," he has said. "We want to change policies of corruption, inability and dependency... We want a transparent, fair and youthful state."

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Image caption Mr Sabahi is regarded as appealing to younger voters

He has promised an ambitious economic programme to address the country's high unemployment rate. He has also pledged to amend "unjust laws", including a controversial protest law which he says prohibits protests and sit-ins, and to release "all political prisoners" if he becomes president.

However, Mr Sabahi has added that, if elected, he will not move to lift the ban on the Muslim Brotherhood group, which has been banned and branded a terrorist group by the interim authorities.

He claims to be a modern-day Nasserist, following in the footsteps of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who pushed for socialist economic policies and pan-Arab nationalism.

Mr Sabahi's foreign policy platform promotes a mixture of nationalism, fierce opposition to the legacy of the Mubarak years, and a strongly anti-Israeli stance.

He has been active since the campaigning period started in early May, and has so far garnered support from several liberal and socialist parties and revolutionary youth movements.

Mr Sabahi is seen to offer an alternative, especially to younger voters and to those who favour a civilian candidate over a military one. However, it is difficult to gauge the size of his support.

His bid has caused a division within the influential anti-Morsi Tamarod (Revolt) movement. Tamarod officially pledged to back Mr Sisi, but some of its leaders will support Mr Sabahi. The movement played a key role in mobilising nationwide protests that deposed Mohammed Morsi.

Jail time

Hamdeen Sabahi was born in the Nile Delta town of Baltim in 1954. His father was a peasant, and he is the youngest of 11 siblings.

He studied at the Faculty of Mass Communications at Cairo University, and headed the students union.

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Image caption Mr Sabahi faces a tough race to promote himself as rival Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has the backing of traditional media

Mr Sabahi is well-known for having criticised then-President Anwar al-Sadat in a face-to-face encounter in 1977, accusing him of turning his back on Nasserism in favour of neo-liberalism

He was an opposition activist during the Sadat and Mubarak years, and was jailed several times during their presidencies for his political dissent. He later worked as a journalist.

In 1996, he founded the Arab Nasserist Al-Karamah Party, and was elected twice to the People's Assembly in 2000 and 2005.

Mr Sabahi was co-founder of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, which was set up with the aim of rallying public opinion against the expected transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to his son Jamal.

In 2010 he joined former International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change, which called for constitutional reform, and he was among the first prominent figures to take part in the protests of 2011 and 2013.

He formed the Popular Current movement in the wake of the 2012 presidential elections, in a bid to capitalise on his support in that poll and with the aim of uniting secular groups and organisations in opposition to Islamist political parties.

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