CAIRO – Here is a look at the two candidates in Egypt's presidential election as voters on Monday and Tuesday decide on the nation's next leader.
— ABDEL-FATTAH EL-SISSI
Born in 1954, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi hails from a family of furniture makers. He grew up in the historic neighborhood of Islamic Cairo that is home to al-Azhar, the center of Sunni Muslim learning, and Egypt's largest crafts market, the Khan Khalili.
El-Sissi's father later moved them to the city's new upper-middle class neighborhood of Nasr City. His son's military career began as soon as he graduated from an army-run high school. He obtained a bachelor's degree from Egypt's War College in 1977 and a Masters' degree in military sciences from Egypt's military staff college in 1987. He also completed a Masters' degree at the military staff college in the UK in 1992, and a fellowship at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2006. While in the U.S., he wrote a paper entitled, "Democracy in the Middle East," which has been used by some to suggest he supports democracy but also autocracy and political Islam.
After serving as military attache in Saudi Arabia, the end of Hosni Mubarak's era found el-Sissi heading military intelligence, where he remained following the 2011 uprisings that swept Mubarak from power.
He became the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and gained name-recognition in the spring of 2012 when he defended 'virginity tests' conducted on female protesters. In August 2012, then-president and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi unexpectedly sidelined the octogenarian Tantawi, replacing him with el-Sissi.
After removing Morsi on July 3rd in a popularly-backed military takeover, el-Sissi rose to international prominence and dizzying national popularity. Chocolates bearing his picture, posters depicting him next to former strongman-presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, songs and even poetry idolizing him emerged. As defense minister, he oversaw the violent dispersal of sit-ins in support of Morsi that killed hundreds last August, and a subsequent crackdown on those who opposed the ouster — first Brotherhood supporters, then secular dissidents.
After months of assuring the public that he would not run for office, el-Sissi announced his candidacy for president on March 26, after resigning from the military. His campaign released a 17-point plan, which included a greater role for the state in the management of the economy. He also planned to redraw the borders of some of the provinces, build 22 new industrial cities and eight new airports and reform the education system. He previously cited the need to restore security and stability as Egypt's top priority.
In recent pre-recorded and tightly-controlled televised appearances, he has cast himself as a strong-handed disciplinarian, saying the now-banned Brotherhood will not return on his watch, emphasizing the need for public sacrifices and cautioning the media not to ask for too many freedoms. The balancing of these tough pronouncements with emotional shows of sympathy with the public have led many Egyptians to respond with outpourings of affection for him.
— HAMDEEN SABAHI
Four months older than el-Sissi, Hamdeen Sabahi was born in July 1954 in the resort town of Baltim in the Nile Delta province of Kafr el Sheikh.
Sabahi was a supporter of the leftist Nasserist doctrine since his student days when he studied mass communication at Cairo University. His father, a farmer, benefited from Nasser's land reform scheme that redistributed land to farmers in the Delta. Sabahi spent his career between journalism and politics and went on to participate and found several political movements.
He co-founded the leftist Karama party in 1996 and was involved in establishing the "Kifaya," or "Enough" movement in late 2004, which protested the regime's corruption and abuses and was to somewhat a precursor to the movements that ousted Mubarak in 2011.
In the first round of the presidential 2012 race, Sabahi had a last-minute surge after campaigning on promises to help the poor and bring about "social justice," one of the key demands of the uprising.
This time around, Sabahi has sought to court the youth vote and paint himself as the "revolutionary candidate," again focusing on the poor and the need for social and economic justice. He has also said he would repeal the law that outlaws protests without a permit. On foreign policy, he calls for a disengagement from Washington, including military aid, and a less-close relationship with Israel.
Unlike the front-runner, Sabahi has been very vocal about his leftist political platform, harkening back to the nationalist, socialist ideology of Gamel Abdel-Nasser who ruled in the 1950s and 1960s. An 81-page document on his website details his campaign program.
While many see his candidacy as little more than a fig leaf to lend legitimacy to the military-backed el-Sissi, Sabahi's team appears to be taking the competition seriously and his campaign buses have for the last three weeks zigzagged across the country.
Though Sabahi seems to agree that el-Sissi is a "people's hero," he says that it is time for the military to return to the barracks.