Just 10 days before Egypt’s much anticipated presidential election is set to begin, 10 young men and women are running frantically between speeding cars in front of Maspero, the state radio and TV building, distributing flyers for Khaled Ali, the pro-revolution lawyer-turned-presidential candidate.
According to the campaign’s Facebook page, the event was supposed to be a human chain holding Ali’s posters. They had to change strategies due to their small number.
Unlike most candidates, who began campaigning more than a year ago, the human rights lawyer announced his candidacy only one month before the deadline for election nominations. Ali’s campaigners are racing against time in order make their candidate succeed, a dream that might be hard to attain due to the campaign’s small size, lack of resources and organization.
“We are trying as much as we can to make people know about Ali. We theoretically have 30,000 volunteers, but they don’t know what to do, so we are still trying to distribute roles to them,” Mohamed Eissa, who is responsible for planning street campaigning, tells Egypt Independent while distributing flyers to passersby.
“Khaled Ali, the youngest candidate,” Eissa tells taxi and microbus drivers as they slow down to take the flyer. Ali’s age, 40, the minimum age requirement for presidential candidates, is one of his strongest attributes.
“We want someone with whom we can dream and build our country. He is the only candidate among the 13 others whose age is appropriate for us. He is dreaming of a new Egypt, of hope,” Essam Abdel Rahman, a retired army officer, says as he awaits Ali’s arrival at a rally in Qataweya, a small village in Sharqiya Governorate.
Ali poses himself as the young revolutionary candidate who comes from the heart of Tahrir Square to achieve its most voiced chant: “bread, freedom and social justice.”
As Ali arrives to Qataweya, where hundreds are waiting for him, and before starting his speech, he asks the attendees to take a moment of silence in honor of the martyrs of the revolution.
“More than a year after the revolution erupted, we all see the dire economic conditions that the country has reached. I can feel it in every face and in every house I enter, I feel that Egyptians are worried, they are not happy,” Ali tells the crowd. “But giving in to depression is not the solution. You should see the ray of light in the middle of this darkness. Yes, there is light but sometimes they try to hide it.” While he doesn’t explicitly mention who they are, it becomes obvious later on that he means the current government or those affiliated with the old regime who are against the revolution.
Ali then goes on to explain how his program can turn this light of hope into reality. His leftist background is manifested in his populist economic platform and strong support for social welfare programs.
“It doesn’t matter whether I win or not. The real struggle is over which economic system that we will follow. Will we follow the same economic system that introduced privatization and that transformed people’s rights into products for sale to the highest bidder? Or will we deal with employment, water, education, healthcare and social security as rights that must be offered for citizens?”
“There has to be equal distribution of wealth,” says Ali to the rural audience.
He denounces the Mubarak-era investment strategies that gave investors incentives while stripping workers of their rights and did little to genuinely boost Egypt’s production and trade. However, he explains that he is not against the private sector; rather, he believes in an economic system that mixes the private, public and mixed sectors.
The campaign’s video ads feature people from the middle and lower-middle classes saying the definition of social justice from their points of view ending with Ali himself saying, “Social justice is our way to freedom.”
Ali’s defense of the poor is nothing new. He has achieved plenty of grassroots support from the working class due to his campaigns for independent trade unions and labor rights. He took it upon himself to fight corrupt privatization contracts of factories and companies and won several key cases in favor of workers though his work at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, which he founded.
That’s why most supporters who attend his campaign rallies are workers and farmers whom he represented in court or joined at demonstrations against unjust factory owners.
“He visited our factory in Belbeis once, and we told him about our problem. Since then he has been very keen to mention us in all his TV appearances and campaign rallies. We are here today to return the favor,” said Emad Etman, head of the independent workers syndicate at the company who attended Ali’s Sharqiya conference.
Production in the factory stopped completely since the revolution and thousands of workers were laid off. Ali promised to solve the factory’s problem even if he didn’t win the election, Etman told Egypt Independent.
“We try to reach out to all sectors but we emphasize the poor and middle class because this is the class that Ali speaks on behalf of. He is nominating himself for workers, farmers and the poor,” said Eissa.
Ali was born in a small village in Daqahlia governorate and he lives now in one of Egypt’s most populous and poor areas, Imbaba. In a recent TV interview, Ali said he takes the tuk tuk to go to his office every day and that his savings don’t exceed LE9,000.
“I feel like he is one of us, as if he knows us, lives with us, and knows our problems,” says Somaya Ramadan, 22, after meeting Ali in person and listening to his speech in Qataweya.
Ali’s campaign is considered one of the poorest campaigns, something the presidential candidate and his supporters mention continuously as an appeal. It also appears to be a major weakness. There is not a single billboard for Ali in Egypt’s streets. The number of posters is limited, and their quality is lower than those of other candidates.
“We wish he would win but how can he compete with the dinosaurs?” said Sayed Abdel Kader, 50, as he passes by the campaigners in front of Maspero.
Others have offered to help in their neighborhoods and places of work.
Samir Abdel Hamid takes posters with him and offers to recruit young people in his neighborhood who can help in campaigning for Ali. Ali has no presence in the weekly opinion polls.
Unlike other candidates, Ali doesn’t travel with a large entourage to campaign rallies outside of Cairo. Only two campaigners travelled with him to Sharqiya. The campaign is not very centralized, and there is lack of a clear strategy and action plan for its activities.
“There is no specific strategy, the campaign is very spontaneous,” said Shaimaa Hassan, 31, who joined the campaign two months ago. Hassan told Egypt Independent that he has never actually met Ali in person.
Although Ali’s campaign is one of the poorest and unplanned campaigns compared to others, his success is like a dream of an Egyptian utopia for both his campaigners and voters. “We will achieve our dream,” is the campaign’s slogan.
“Yes of course he can win, just like the revolution was a dream that came true, he is a dream. He is our dream,” says Hassan.