Sabbahi can surprise Egypt

2012-05-20 21:30

Dakarnas - Egyptian presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi rolls into the village of Dakarnas with a retinue of enthusiastic young supporters who are convinced their underdog candidate can surprise the nation.

"The president is here, the president is here!" they chant as the silver-haired Sabbahi grins and waves, at times standing from his car seat to pop through the sun roof, the better to greet locals staring from balconies above.

The 57-year-old Sabbahi had been regarded as something of an also-ran in Egypt's first post-revolution presidential vote. But his showing among Egyptian expatriate voters and in recent polls has helped raise his campaign's profile.

An outspoken proponent of the leftist, pan-Arabist policies of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, Sabbahi is campaigning on a populist platform stressing his humble beginnings.

"He's the son of peasants, he understands our problems," said 39-year-old Ibrahim Zanun, who was waiting outside the Dakarnas mosque where Sabbahi stopped to perform afternoon prayers.

"We feel that he is the one who will give us work, rights and a dignified life."

Sabbahi emerged from the mosque borne on the shoulders of his supporters, who carried him to a podium for a brief stump speech.

"Great Dakarnas, I am one of you, and I will bring you your rights," he told a crowd of several hundred, many of them students from the nearby Mansoura University.

The speech over, the convoy moved on, weaving through small villages where local sentiment often seemed dominated by curiosity rather than obvious support.

One of us

Crowds of children and teenage boys chased after the candidate's black Skoda as it cruised slowly through impoverished alleys.

At the side of the road, a middle-aged woman carrying a child ululated as the campaign passed through, but she admitted she wasn't sure she was going to vote at all.

But once Sabbahi arrived at the site of a campaign rally in Manzala, in the north of Egypt's Daqiliya governorate, the crowds were no longer simply interested bystanders.

Standing by the road waiting to welcome him was 24-year-old law student Sally al-Ezabi.

"I really feel he is one of us," she said. "I love everything about him, his personality and his platform. He talks about education, the economy, about freedom for women, the arts, freedom of thought."

Ezabi, like many Sabbahi supporters on the campaign trail on Saturday, said she had originally thrown her support behind Mohamed ElBaradei, switching allegiance after he announced he wouldn't run.

But others said they backed Sabbahi from the start, calling him a reformer who fought corruption and was unafraid to participate in demonstrations even before Egypt's 2011 revolution.

New or old, Sabbahi's supporters insist he has widespread support in the impoverished rural areas across northern Egypt, where his leftist credentials and emphasis on pride and dignity resonate with many.

But his support is by no means unanimous, and as Sabbahi's convoy moved out of Dakarnas, one local decided to make his allegiance clear, holding up his two palms scrawled with the name of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.