Does Egypt’s Hamdeen Sabahi stand a chance in elections?

“If your wish is that I run for president, then I will abide by it,” said Hamdeen Sabahi addressing a group of revolutionary youths who cheered upon hearing his final decision: “I, the citizen Hamdeen Sabahi, have decided to fight the battle.” Sabahi had for a long time been hesitant to join the presidential race and had even declared his willingness to support army chief Abel Fattah al-Sisi if his electoral platform is in line with the goals of the revolution. However, after pressure from several youth and revolutionary groups, he has decided run.

The Revolution’s Candidate Campaign, whose goal is to support a presidential candidate who best represents the demands of the January 25 Revolution, played a major role in encouraging Sabahi to stay in the race, a fact that he himself mentions in the press conference in which he announced his intention to run for president. “By the will of the youths, Hamdeen Sabahi is the revolution’s candidate,” read the campaign banners distributed across Egypt as soon as Sabahi announced his decision.

Sabahi rallies support

“Sabahi is the most suitable person for this stage,” said campaign coordinator Amr Badr. “He has no links to Mubarak’s regime or the Muslim Brotherhood and he is civilian and not from the military. Plus, he has a long history of struggle for freedom and he really believes in democracy.”

Badr added that Sabahi’s platform is one that prioritizes the poor and that is why millions voted for him in the previous 2012 presidential elections. Badr noted that neither Sisi nor Sami Anan, former chief of staff of the Egyptian army and a potential presidential candidate, will achieve the goals of the revolution. “Both are an extension of the regimes of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. They will not meet the demands of the people.” The campaign’s views were echoed by George Ishak, co-founder of the anti-Mubarak Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya).  “Hamdeen Sabahi is the one whose platform is in compliance with the goals of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions,” he said in the same press conference in which Sabahi announced his candidacy.

Talaat Fahmy, secretary general of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, says that Sabahi’s presidential bid will give civilian parties the opportunity to rally around a non-military candidate. “This strengthens the democratic process and creates real competition between different parties,” he said, adding that the army should focus on maintaining national security. Fahmy added that Sabahi’s strongest point is his “known support for the working class.”

Sabahi supporters back Sisi

However, not everyone is on board.

The presidential candidate has lost the backing of two of his formerly most ardent supporters who played a major role in his previous campaign—director Khaled Youssef and Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser, son of late president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Youssef, who has recently declared his support for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, argued that Sabahi’s announcement was not an official one since it had not yet been endorsed by the Egyptian Popular Current, which Sabahi chairs.

“The party’s board of trustees has to announce the candidacy in order for it to be official,” Youssef said in a TV interview. “Sabahi’s announcement was only an emotional response to pressure by youths who were present at the press conference.” That is why, Youssef explained, Sabahi noted that he has made “the personal decision” to run for president.

Even though the party later announced its official support for Sabahi, Youssef expressed his personal objection. “We have all agreed that for the four years that follow the June 30 revolution, we should not open the door for divisions and should, instead, focus on reconstructing the state and fighting terrorism,” he said. “This is not the time for political competition.” Youssef stressed the necessity of supporting Sisi at this stage: “We need to back one single candidate so that we don’t jeopardize our unity and this candidate is Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.”

Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser said he saw Sabahi’s decision as a purely emotional one since it is clear that the Egyptian people want Sisi to be their leader. “Sisi is the people’s hero because he responded to their demands on June 30,” he said in an interview. In response to criticism about changing his stance, Abdel Nasser stressed that he did not abandon Sabahi as some claim, but that circumstances have changed. “Sisi was not a presidential candidate back in 2012 and had he been, I would have voted for him,” he said. “But after June 30, he risked his life and defied the U.S. in order to side with the people. He is the most suitable man for this stage.”

The National Salvation Front, the main opposition bloc against the Muslim Brotherhood of which Sabahi’s Egyptian Popular Current is a co-founder and a leading member, has not officially announced who it will support. However, initial statements by its leading members hint that backing Sabahi is quite unlikely. Mohammad al-Orabi, former foreign minister and current chairman of the Congress Party, argued that Sabahi is not qualified to become president and will not be able to solve Egypt’s problems as far as foreign policy is concerned. Orabi added that the front leaders had earlier agreed not to field a candidate and to only monitor the performance of the government. Amr Ali, member of the Free Egyptians Party, another member in the front, said that Sabahi’s ideologies are different from the rest of the parties in the front. “The parties in the front are liberal while Sabahi adopts socialist ideologies,” he said. “Besides, most of the front’s parties are more inclined to backing Sisi.” Hossam al-Kholy, assistant secretary general of al-Wafd Party, a member of the front, also cited ideological differences as the main reason for not preferring to support Sabahi. Kholy objected to referring to Sabahi as “the revolution’s candidate.” “Not everyone who had been to Tahrir Square would be a representative of the revolution,” he said. “Nobody has the right to monopolize the revolution.”

Candidacy causes divisions

Sabahi’s intention to run for president caused a serious rift in the ranks of the Tamarod Movement, the group behind the signature collection campaign that triggered the June 30, 2013 protests and the subsequent ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi. While Tamarod officially supports Sisi’s candidacy, several of its senior members declared their support for Sabahi. His fifty supporters from group the issued a statement explaining the reason for their decision.

“We the undersigned support freedom fighter Hamdeen Sabahi for his struggle against corruption throughout the regimes of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, for a political agenda that adheres to the goals of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions, and for his prioritization of social justice,” read the statement. Tamarod co-founders Mohammad Abdel Aziz and Hassan Shahin were among the signatories. Their membership in the group was reportedly frozen following the move. The group’s third co-founder Mahmoud Badr said Abdel Aziz and Shahin have the right to voice their opinion but as individuals, not representatives of the group. “Tamarod has officially announced its full support for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, therefore those adopting a different viewcannotspeak in the movement’s name,” he wrote in a statement. Tamarod spokesman Mohammad Nabawi accused Sabahi of causing a split in the movement by inviting some of its senior members to the press conference in which he announced his intention to run for president. “Sabahi introduced Abdel Aziz and Shahin in the press conference as senior members of Tamarod which made it sound like the movement is supporting him while he knows very well that we support Sisi,” he said in a TV interview. Nabawi accused Khaled al-Qadi, member of Tamarod’s politburo and one of the Sahabi supporters, of allowing members of the Egyptian Popular Current to infiltrate the movement.

Sabahi’s candidacy was met with objection by groups such as the April 6 Youth Movement and Revolutionary Socialists known for their stance against the army and particularly against Sisi. Sherif al-Rubi, member of the April 6 politburo, said the movement will not support Sabahi because of his hesitation. “One time, he says he will support Sisi, then another time he decides to run for president,” he said. Mohammad Hassan, another member of the movement, said he thinks it is likely Sabahi might withdraw in the last minute to leave the stage for Sisi. “By stressing that his presidential bid is a personal decision, he left the door open for himself to withdraw and support Sisi,” he said. “We cannot trust Sabahi.” Hassan’s statement, however, came before the Egyptian Popular Current’s official decision to back Sabahi.

Mahmoud Ezzat, member of the Revolutionary Socialists politburo, said the movement will not back Sabahi, also citing also his reluctance to make a decision earlier. “Sabahi’s popularity decreased remarkably owing to his stances on the military,” he added. “Right now he does not represent the January 25 Revolution.”

‘Bomb in the bedroom?’ Egypt’s new anti-Brotherhood divorce fatwa explained

“If a man discovers that his wife belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, he should divorce her,” said preacher Mazhar Shahin in the show he presents in one of the private Egyptian satellite channels. “It is like having a bomb sleep in your own bedroom,” he added.

In this case, Shahin explained, the wife should be given the chance to sever all ties with the Brotherhood, but if she refuses, the husband has to divorce her. Shahin, who is also the imam of the Omar Makram Mosque in Tahrir Square and is known as “the imam of the revolution,” attributed his fatwa to the “jurisprudence of priorities” in Islam, through which, he argued, it becomes obvious that Egypt takes priority over individuals.

“If the interests of my country contradict those of my wife, I would definitely choose my country,” he noted. “A man can find many other women to marry, but there is only one Egypt.”

Belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, however, does not mean the wife should be stripped of her financial rights, according to Shahin, who stressed that the divorce has to “comply with God’s laws.” The fatwa, Shahin said, also gives the right to any woman who finds out that her husband belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood to seek divorce.

Lesser of two evils

For Shahin, divorce is considered the lesser of two evils for the wife because otherwise the husband might report her to the police. “It is better for her to end up divorced than to end up in jail.” Shahin was referring to the case of a man who reported his wife to State Security for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In his complaint, the husband said that he only found out his wife is a Brotherhood member after Islamist President Mohammad Mursi came to power. “After the Brotherhood was toppled, the group started assigning her missions,” the complaint added. “That is why she traveled to the United Kingdom and Germany.”

The husband said that he decided to report her after she started putting pressure on him to join the Muslim Brotherhood and presented pictures of her in London doing the four-fingered salute, which declares solidarity with the victims of the Islamist sit-in that was dispersed by security forces.

Taking advantage

The husband also accused the wife of taking advantage of her position as a teaching assistant in Cairo University to incite students to demonstrate against the Egyptian state.

Dar al-Iftaa, the body officially in charge of issuing fatwas, promptly declared that Shahin’s words constitute a “personalopinion” rather than a fatwa. “The reason Shahin stated for the divorce is not one of those mentioned in Islamic law,” said the statement issued by Dar al-Iftaa. “As for the possible involvement of the husband or the wife in terrorist activities, this is to be determined through investigations.” Sheikh Magdi Ashour, head of the Fatwa Committee at Dar al-Iftaa, argued that Shahin is a mosque imam, therefore “not qualified to issue fatwas.” Ashour added that Dar al-Iftaa has always been keen on preserving the unity of the family and that is why it is careful with fatwas concerning divorce.

“Plus, not all members of the Muslim Brotherhood were involved in destructive activities, so it is not possible to issue such a general fatwa” he added in a TV interview. “Divorce, then, becomes permissible if being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is detrimental to the safety of the family.”

Outside the mosque

Minister of Islamic Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa called Shahin’s fatwas “political” and not religious, hence is not under the ministry’s jurisdiction. “The ministry has the right to take to task preachers who violate the rules while delivering sermons in mosques,” he said in a press statement. “But Shahin said that outside the mosque, so it is an opinion only he is responsible for.”

Shain’s fatwa was met with indignation by Islamist parties. Laila Samy, member of the Higher Committee of al-Wasat Party, known for its close links to the Muslim Brotherhood, accused Shahin of inciting hatred against “citizens who are now paying for their stance against the ‘coup,’” she wrote in reference to the ouster of president Mohammad Mursi, considered a military coup by pro-Muslim Brotherhood factions.

Samy described Mazhar as “another of the coup sheikhs who do not mind bringing about the disintegration of society to serve their interests.”

Samy expressed her shock as Shahin’s “recklessness” when it comes to a “grave matter” like divorce. “He is simply calling upon husbands to divorce their wives. He doesn’t mind ruining entire families.”


The ultra-conservative al-Nour Party, which supported the ouster of Mursi and took part in the subsequent road map, considered the fatwa to have “tampered with religious laws.” Party spokesman Sherif Taha said the fatwa increases divisions in the Egyptian society under the pretext of patriotism.

“Involving love for one’s country in this matter is a type of manipulation that has unfortunately become prevalent in the political scene nowadays,” he said. Islamic researcher Sheikh Mohamed Teleima argued that all women who are against the “coup” are now suffering and that Shahin’s fatwa is part of the price they are paying. “My wife is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I am proud of that,” he added.

Teleima addressed a question to Shahin and “other issuers of disastrous fatwas,” as he put it.

“What then is the fatwa that can be issued about women who danced in front of strangers?” in reference to women dancing in front of polling stations on the day of the referendum on the post-Muslim Brotherhood constitution as an expression of approval for the new draft and the current Egyptian government.

Objections to the fatwa also came from secular figures known for their stance against the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s top political Bassem Youssef said that the fatwa is not really different from others issued by the Muslim Brotherhood against their opponents. “This is exactly like saying that liberals are not going to heaven,” he said in a TV interview.


“People against the Brotherhood are now manipulating religion exactly like Brotherhood members and supporters used to do before. This is hysteria!” Youssef said that while the general discourse is about unity, a fatwa like this will only create more rifts.“You can’t just call upon husbands to divorce their wives or wives to seek divorces because of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

The April 6 Youth Movement issued a statement condemning Shahin’s fatwa and likening his stances to those of “the sultan’s preachers” throughout history. “The sultan’s preacher would issue fatwas that serve the interests of the ruler because currying favor with the authorities becomes his topmost priority.”

The statement added that even though Shahin was called “the imam of the revolution,” he turned out to have been using the revolution to be in the limelight. “There are many like you who we used to respect and who we thought are real revolutionaries, but they are in reality taking advantage of the revolution in order to be close to those in power at the expense of morals and principles and even religion,” the statement concluded.

In response to the harsh criticism to which he was subjected, Shahin said his words were taken out of context, arguing that it was obvious he meant wives who are involved in terrorist activities.

Female terrorists

“If the wife prepares Molotov cocktails, raises her children to hate the army and the police, curses Egypt and steps over the Egyptian flag, and is happy when other Egyptians are killed, she becomes dangerous to the family,” he said in a TV interview. Shahin explained that this applies to any woman who engages in terrorism regardless of her affiliation. “I did not mean that difference in political views justifies divorce,” he added.

In another interview, Shahin said that if he were in this position, he would definitely divorce his wife. “I will not sit still while my wife is out there burning down the country,” he said. On hisFacebook page, Shahin explained the logic behind his fatwa. “If a man has the right to divorce his wife if she betrays him, then what about betraying the country?” he asked. “If betraying a spouse is a sin, betraying one’s country is the gravest of sins.”

Even though Shahin was the center of the controversy and the recipient of all criticism, he was not the only scholar to issue this kind of fatwa. Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at al-Azhar University Souad Saleh said that Muslim men should not marry women who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and called upon men who find out their fiancées are from the Brotherhood to break off the engagement.

“Marrying a woman from the Muslim Brotherhood will produce a new generation of terrorists because she will instill her violent ideas into the minds of her children,” she said in a TV interview. Saleh explained that the relationship between husband and wife should be based on “love and compassion” as stated in the Quran.

“This is not the case with Brotherhood women who incite murder and destabilize society,” she added, stressing that her fatwa is supported by evidence from religion.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis: Egypt’s own al-Qaeda?

The name Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has been associated with almost every terrorist attack that hit Egypt after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the attempt on the life of the interior minister, the bombing of National Security headquarters in Mansoura and Cairo, the shooting down of a military helicopter in the Sinai Peninsula, and, most recently, the assassination of a senior security official. The group’s keenness to claim responsibility for each operation it carries out and its pledge to carry out more as part of what it calls “the battle for avenging the Muslims of Egypt” raised more question marks about what its real objectives are, how and where it originated, and what links, if any, it could possibly have with al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other militant and/or Islamist groups.

Based on the statements it has so far issued, the attacks mainly target police and army facilities and personnel. In one of those statements, the group lists the reasons why it labels the police and army as “apostates” and why, accordingly, it is a religious duty to declare war against them. According to one of those statements, entitled “A message to police and army officers and their families,” the police and the army are “fighting whoever attempts to apply Islamic law, “joining forces with the liberals and seculars,” “empowering a secular government that does not rule according to God’s laws,” “protecting a constitution that permits what God has forbidden and forbids what God has permitted” and “supporting Christians and Jews against Muslims under the pretext of fighting terrorism.” In the same statement, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis called upon police and army officers to quit their jobs or else suffer the consequences and upon their families to help them “save their lives and honor their religion.” In another statement, entitled “Operation ‘Right of Vengeance,’” Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis makes clear it will not target civilians as long as they do not take to the streets in support of the police and the army. “We are asking you not to go out to support apostasy and injustice,” read the statement. “If you stay at home, we promise that you’ll be safe.” In addition to the statements it is in the habit of issuing following each attack, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis also released a video that features the firing of the missile which downed the military helicopter and claimed the lives of five Egyptian officers. In the last statement it issued to claim responsibility for the assassination of the deputy interior minister and head of the Interior Ministry’s Technical Department General Mohammad Saeid, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis warned that defense minister, now potential presidential candidate, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim are next. “Retaliation is imminent and God’s will shall prevail,” said the statement.


Although Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is always referred to in the media as “al-Qaeda-linked” and “al-Qaeda-inspired,” there is no evidence of the group being an off-shoot of al-Qaeda. One of the few links so far was established by former militant and founder of the Islamic Jihad in Egypt Nabil Naeim, who said that the group originated in Gaza then started operating in Egypt following the 2011 Revolution. According to Naeim, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is funded by the Muslim Brotherhood through a deal with the Brotherhood’s Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater that was mediated by Mohammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda chief. “Hamas is also part of the deal, according to an appeasement deal sponsored by ousted President Mohammad Mursi in return for cooperation with the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis,” Naeim said in a press interview. Naeim added that the leader of the original Gaza group received his “takfiri” education from Sheikh Abdel Meguid al-Shazli, who is also the mentor of both Shater and Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammad Badei. According to Naeim, the Muslim Brotherhood supplies Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis with weapons “through Libya and the Gaza tunnels.” Although al-Qaeda link is not the center of attention at the moment, the Muslim Brotherhood link is the one several parties seem to agree on. Expert on Islamist groups Sameh Eid called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis “the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood” and said that Shater had threatened Sisi with “escalation in Sinai and the targeting of the Egyptian army.” Eid added that the Muslim Brotherhood was planning on forming its own militia. “This militia was to be made up of Hamas militants, youths from the Brotherhood, and fighters trained in Afghanistan,” he said in a TV interview. Medhat Naguib, head of al-Ahrar Party, argued that Shater’s aim of forming this militia was “having a deterrent power against the state to guarantee remaining in power.” He added that militants granted a presidential pardon when Mursi came to power played an important role in the establishment of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis: “That explains why they moved to Sinai right after they were released,” he said. Naguib established another al-Qaeda link when he said that member of Ansar Bayt al-Magdes were trained by al-Qaeda operatives in Sinai. “This was done based on coordination between Mursi and al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri,” he added. Naguib argues that another proof of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood is the group’s rejection of a merging request by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “This shows that they only want to terrorize the Egyptian people,” he explained. Mohammad Hamza, head of Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies, finds the statements issued by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis proof enough of their Brotherhood connection. “All the group’s statements show that they are avenging the Brotherhood,” he said.

Similar to al-Qaeda link, both the Brotherhood and Hamas links do not seem to be supported by concrete evidence. In his article “Can Egypt Handle Ansar Bayt al Maqdis?”, published in The National Interest, David Barnett expresses his surprise at the Egyptian government’s insistence on accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of carrying out all terrorist attacks even though Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claims responsibility every time and its designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization immediately after one of those attacks. Barnett argues that in what it considers “an existential battle,” the Egyptian state finds justification for its continuous incrimination of the Muslim Brotherhood in a public opinion that blames the group for all the country’s ailments and he cites the example of a poll which revealed that only 6% of the Egyptian people believe that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are to blame for terrorist attacks. For Barnett, there has not been any proof of the link between the two groups. “The evidence presented thus far is tenuous, at best,” he wrote. “The command and control links that some Egyptian officials have suggested are unproven. And while ABM certainly has former members of the Muslim Brotherhood within its ranks, these are former members who specifically left because the Brotherhood was not, in their view, fully committed to offensive jihad.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhari also came out to refute allegations of any link between Hamas and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is not Palestinian at all,” he said in a press statement. Abu Zuhari slammed attempts at “fabricating a link between this Egyptian group and Gaza” and which he considered a means of “escaping from the problem and exporting the Egyptian crisis.” He also denied claims that the missile used for downing the Egyptian helicopter came from Gaza. “That was a Russian missile that any group in Sinai could get from the black market.” Abu Zuhari called upon the Egyptian media to stop the propagation of such false news. “This serves no one except the Israeli occupation,” he concluded.