Egyptian presidential candidate splits key youth movement

Egyptian presidential candidate splits key youth movement
Hamdeen Sabahi, right, then a candidate for the Egyptian presidential elections in 2012, greets protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square. (Amel Pain / EPA)

CAIRO -- In a preview of what will likely be a tumultuous campaign season, a leftist politician's decision to run for president has split members of a youth movement that ignited the demonstrations leading to last year's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The politician, Hamdeen Sabahi, declared his candidacy on Saturday, making him the first contender to enter the presidential race. The overwhelming favorite, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Sisi, the country's de facto leader after the army removed Morsi in a  popularly backed coup, is expected to declare his candidacy soon.

Sabahi's candidacy has sowed divisions among the group Tamarod, or Rebel, which last spring collected millions of petition signatures demanding Morsi's ouster. Tamarod had previously announced its unanimous support for Sisi, who led the coup that unseated Morsi. But now a substantial bloc within the group is endorsing Sabahi instead.

Consequently, founding members Hassan Shahin, Mohamed Abdel Aziz and Khaled El Kady had their memberships frozen for "violating the group's decision" to back Sisi, a statement posted on Tamarod's official website said. That led dozens of other members of the group to issue a statement supporting Sabahi. The group was to hold an emergency meeting on the split.

Backers of Sabahi, who came in third in the 2012 presidential vote, say the 59-year-old rejects both the corruption of the era of former leader Hosni Mubarak, which helped spur the Tahrir Square-based uprising against him, and the autocratic rule of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power after Mubarak's fall.

On Sunday, moderate Islamist politician Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh said he would not be running for the presidency, citing lack of democracy and freedoms under the current military-backed regime. Aboul Fotouh came in fourth in the 2012 race that was won by Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president.

Hassan is a special correspondent.