Meet your presidential candidate: Abul Ezz al-Hariry, the rabble rouser

Less than a day after Abul Ezz al-Hariry announced his candidacy for president of Egypt he filed a lawsuit calling for the High Elections Commission to halt the elections.

Throughout his political career, Hariry, who is running on behalf of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), has insisted on playing the political game while unremittingly criticizing its limitations, whether backroom deals, discriminatory regulations or faulty rules. Having been on the national political scene since being elected to Parliament at the age of 30 in 1976, Hariry has a long history to back up his mischief-making persona.

“I’m always getting kicked out — or  fired — from  things,” Hariry said in a recent television interview. “For 13 years I was fired from work, I was twice kicked out of national associations, once out of Parliament, once out of the Socialist Union, once from the Tagammu Party.”

Somehow, Hariry manages to throw himself back in the mix and remain relevant throughout the years. He describes it as a consistent desire to put himself second and the general interest — which he fought and got fired for — first.

Leftist politicians have long claimed to be the prime defenders of laborers and peasants. In Hariry, the party can legitimately claim to have an experienced politician and man of the people.

After finishing secondary education, he worked as a laborer in the National Company for Spinning and Weaving, which also saw the beginning of his labor activism and engagement in leftist politics. In 1975 he was fired from his position as a result, and ran for Parliament the next year in his district in Alexandria, Karmouz, in a seat reserved for workers. The People’s Assembly revoked his diplomatic immunity in 1977 for his participation in labor protests. He returned to Parliament in elections in 2000 and 2011.

Hariry or his supporters will always mention, somewhat theatrically, how he once worked as a shoe shiner to put food on the table after getting fired from the weaving company. In reality, after being removed from the weaving company, Hariry was transferred to work in the phosphate mines in the Red Sea coastal city of Hurghada, and to protest the decision, he set-up a shoe shining station in front of his old company for ten days.

During Sadat’s presidency, he was arrested nine times by his own account, mostly for participation in protests. In 1981, he was detained alongside 1,531 national figures across the political spectrum during Sadat’s worst crackdown on dissidents. He claims to have also been the target of six assassination attempts, mostly by the government, and has suggested he might be targeted again while campaigning during these elections.

One of Hariry’s most notable political battles was within the leftist Tagammu Party in 2009. At the time Tagammu was the largest representative of the left in Egypt. Hariry ran against Refaat al-Saeed for leadership of the party. His main objection to al-Saeed’s clique was that they were engaging in backroom deals and political concessions with Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Hariry called it an “existential struggle.”

Eventually, after losing the elections and criticizing the leadership of the party he had been a part of for nearly three decades, Hariry was effectively barred from membership. After the revolution he successfully managed to found SPAP along with other prominent leftists such as Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, novelist Sonallah Ibrahim, political scientist Moustafa Kamel el-Sayyed and a number of prominent youth activists.

As the leader and official candidate of SPAP, Hariry does not have to go through the initial tiring process of gathering 30,000 endorsements for his candidacy and is the second official presidential candidate in the 2012 race — second only to Ahmed al-Saidy of the National Egyptian Party.

By his own admission, his candidacy comes late, and the SPAP nomination does not mean he is guaranteed support from the left. The already small group of active leftists may be split between Hariry and Khaled Ali, an activist lawyer who is running as an independent.

While they have similar platforms, Hariry has the benefit of being able to point back to a long history of activism and political action to back up his positions. Hariry has also consistently been ready to put forth radical options and propositions. After the Camp David agreement in 1979, Hariry began a public campaign denouncing the agreement and calling it treasonous. He constantly attracted thousands to his rallies on the matter. Cancelling Camp David is on Hariry’s agenda as president.

Having been a staunch leftist his entire political career, Hariry was against the shift towards economic liberalization and alliance with the West under Sadat. “During Sadat’s time, I was an activist for national independence and during Mubarak’s, I was active against corruption,” he has said.

While in Parliament Hariry was consistently critical of the NDP. On corruption issues, he especially took on MP Ahmed Ezz for using his friendship with Gamal Mubarak to acquire steel contracts. It was also during the beginning of Ezz’s rise to prominence within the NDP.

A look into Hariry’s words and actions reveal that his campaign may not be explicitly about winning as much as it is to do what he is most known for — finding out the best way to call out a system on its faults while playing the political game.

In most of his interviews, Hariry is asked specifically what he hopes to achieve coming into the race so late for a party with minimal representation in Parliament (He is one of three SPAP members in Parliament).

“This is politics. This is what I know. It is about putting forth new ideas, paradigms and programs. This is what politics should be doing,” he recently said in a television interview when asked why he is running despite his belief in the illegitimacy of the elections.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, Hariry has been unequivocal in his criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the entire transition process. He constantly rejected motions towards reconciliation or amnesty with corrupt figures from Mubarak’s government and always lent his support to revolutionary groups and causes. Perhaps tellingly, on the same day before announcing his presidency, Hariry joined a demonstration protesting acquittal of the doctor accused of subjecting activist Samira Ibrahim and others to so-called virginity tests.

Even within Parliament and despite winning a decisive majority in his district, Hariry insists that it is an illegitimate body due to the fact that “Anything based on something wrong, is wrong.” Most recently, he lambasted Parliament’s vote on the constitutional constituent assembly, again claiming that the illegitimate Parliament cannot be in charge of deciding how the constitution will be written.

“Hariry knows that the game is rigged. He is too experienced and too smart to be fooled. His role in politics now is to expose all of that, he knows it and he knows what he’s doing,” said one prominent leftist at Hariry’s campaign launching who wished to remain unnamed. 

Whether he intends on running to expose his opponents to criticism, to highlight the left’s agenda, or to win the presidency, which he claimed would only be the result of “reaping the fruit of a lifetime of political activism,” Hariry will definitely do what he does best: unapologetically raise the issues that matter to him, whether it gets him in trouble or not.

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