http://english.alarabiya.net/views/2012/05/20/215339.html

Slogans have usually been notorious for ringing hollow and across the globe there has never been a better context than presidential elections to demonstrate not only how detached those few words written next to candidates’ names are from their reality and/or their political platform, but also how gullible voters can be when they decide to base their choice on consumerist mottos that are not a lot different from McDonalds’s “I’m loving it” or Nike’s “Just do it.”

Egyptian presidential elections are no exception. Even though you would think that for such a historic, first-of-its-kind event, some dashingly ingenious slogans would sweep us off our feet and toss us in utter confusion with all our options looking too perfect to be true, utter blandness and sheer clichés were what posters, billboards, programs, and TV commercials said about the presidential hopefuls they promoted. “Egypt, the strong,” “Up to the challenge,” “Renaissance: the will of the people,” and “Deeds, not words” meant absolutely nothing to me other than horrendous lack of creativity, extremely lousy PR, and, most importantly, a candidate with nothing to offer. Only one of a total of 13 managed to strike the right chord on both the political and the emotional levels and to make visible a glimmer of hope that there is after all one person who deserves to be the first president of post-revolution Egypt: “One of us.”

While “One of us” might, like its counterparts, sound like a melodramatic appeal to an easily-swayed people in a situation that is by definition emotionally-charged, all impressions of that sort are shed off the moment the meaning behind the slogan and the history that made it see the light become known. A very quick look at who Hamdeen Sabahi is more than enough to prove that he is really one of “us” with all the totality, comprehensiveness, and harmony with which these two letters are impregnated.

Born to working class parents and raised in a coastal little town in the Nile Delta, Hamdeen Sabahi grew up among farmers and fishermen and thrived on the social justice dream espoused by late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who later became his main source of inspiration. His ability to identify with the grievances of the marginalized majority set him on the road he chose to take and in which he continues to struggle. Student activism was the first medium through which he was able to voice his revolutionary stances and being elected president of Cairo University’s Students’ Union positioned him as a representative of all those frustrated youths who saw the curtains fall on their national aspirations with the collapse of Nasserism and regarded the era of Anwar Sadat as the initiation of an elitist regime that would strip the poor of whatever meager gains they managed to secure after the July 1952 Revolution. Sabahi’s confrontation with Sadat in 1977 was his official inauguration into the world of nonconformity, freedom fighting, and struggle against all forms of oppression as well as a parallel, inevitable one of detention, persecution, and torture. In the historic speech he gave in front of a tyrant he knew very well never accepted criticism, Sabahi objected to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the privileged few and slammed Sadat’s Open Door Policy and the way it will turn Egypt into a model of monstrous Capitalism. “At the time when the people need every single penny, focusing on making the minority richer is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. Moving to the regional level, Sahabi lashed out at Sadat’s rapprochement with Israel and abandonment of the Palestinian cause. “We reject all sorts of compromises that imply the recognition of the state of Israel and deprive Palestinians from regaining their entire land.” He did not only pay for his “audacity” when he was banned from working in any government institution, including the university and all official media outlets, but also a few years later when in 1981 he was the youngest of opposition figures arrested and detained by Sadat one month before his assassination, thus starting a series of political detentions that went on for decades after and that have reached a total of 17.

Sabahi was arrested, detained, and tortured for all sorts of reasons that all revolved around challenging the authority of the regime and demanding an end to government policies on both the domestic and internal levels. These include leading mass protests against the Second Gulf War in 1990, against stripping farmers of their right to own lands they cultivate, and against Egypt’s support for US invasion of Iraq in 2003 as well as the framed charge of attempted murder against a police officer following a failed assassination plot orchestrated by the Mubarak regime in 1993. The threat he posed to the regime, and which mainly sprang from his participation in dozens of workers’ strikes and anti-Mubarak protests, was made obvious once more when thugs were sent to attack his supporters in the 1995 parliamentary elections, which he eventually won, and when in 2010 votes were rigged in his constituency to insure that he does not win again. In addition to his constant defense of the rights of laborers in the parliament, he was also the first MP to slam the export of Egyptian natural gas to Israel. Sabahi’s battle against the dictatorship then shifted to independent initiatives when he co-founded in 2004 the Egyptian Movement for Change, also called Kefaya (Arabic for “enough”), that opposed the bequest of power to Mubarak’s son and joined in 2010 the National Assembly for Change that called for democratic reform and constitutional amendments and that was seen as one of the main sparks that ignited the revolution.

Like many Egyptian revolutionaries, Sabahi saw catering to the needs of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian cause as one of the main reasons for the deterioration of Egypt’s position in the region as the center of Arab nationalism and his trip to the besieged Gaza Strip in 2008 was not only a proclamation of solidarity with the Palestinian people, but also a blow to the regime which he held accountable for the deplorable conditions in which Gazans lived as well as for the brutal 2008-2009 aggression that it had facilitated. He was, in fact, the first MP/politician to break the blockade on Gaza and to openly slam the construction of a separation wall on Egypt’s border with the strip. During his visit to Marj al-Zohour Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon in 1993, Sabahi made it clear that the Egyptian regime, which he dubbed “Egypt of Camp David,” is not representative of the Egyptian people who wholeheartedly support their Palestinian brethren, and that has also been his stance during the July 2006 war on Lebanon.

It came as no surprise that on January 25, 2011, Hamdeen Sabahi led protests in his hometown as he and his fellow-villagers broke the security barrier and marched to the headquarters of the then ruling National Democratic Party shouting, “Down with Mubarak!” and demanding the removal of the regime. It then seemed quite natural that he would run for president and now seems a lot logical that he becomes one. I personally believe that Hamdeen Sabahy is the only one among the candidates standing in Egypt’s presidential elections who really deserves to win, not only because of an honorable history of struggle against all forms of tyranny at a time when those who spoke their minds risked losing everything, including their lives, but also because, unlike other candidates who usually represent one trend or another, he is the spokesperson of the majority of Egyptians.

Farmers, laborers, and all members of the working class, the poor and the disenfranchised, revolutionaries, human rights activists, Arab nationalists, pro-Palestinians, intellectuals, and students can all find in Hamdeen Sabahi one of “them” and so do all Egyptians who do not want to see the revolution abused or its goals manipulated and who are aware of what a real democracy means and who are immune from all attempts at using religion, power, or money to buy the will of a people. All those can confidently refer to Hamdeen Sabahi as “One of us” like I, and proudly so, do, too.

I, hereby, pronounce that on May 23, I will do my part in building the Egypt I have always wanted to see and vote for Hamdeen Sabahi.