Egyptian leftist building political coalition

Hamdeen Sabahy, who finished third in the first round of the Egyptian presidential vote last May, is building a political coalition of followers seeking a fairer distribution of wealth.

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CAIRO // A popular Egyptian leftist politician and former presidential candidate said he is confident a coalition of leftist groups he is working to unite will be strong enough to defeat Islamists and win a parliament majority.

Hamdeen Sabahy, in an unexpected outcome, came in third place in the first round of the presidential vote last May, behind well-known army commander and politician Ahmed Shafik and current president Mohammed Morsi, who was the candidate of the state's most organised Muslim Brotherhood group.

Ten other candidates including two seen as front-runners trailed Mr Sabahy, who had later turned down an offer by Mr Morsi to become his vice president.

The almost-always smiling populist succeeded in attracting millions of supporters moved by his promises to promote social justice, a fairer distribution of wealth and the elimination of poverty.

With a parliamentary vote expected before the end of the year, Mr Sabahy is building on his gains from the presidential race and working to form a strong, organised bloc to run for parliament.

"We are seeking a national gathering of groups that share our goals of social justice but not necessarily our exact ideologies, and with that we will get a majority in parliament," Mr Sabahy said in an interview Saturday with Reuters.

Mr Sabahy said his front could include liberal groups and individuals who agree to his social justice programme, but when asked if the front was also open to Islamists, the answer was an outright "no." "And certainly," he added, it "would not include the (Brotherhood's) Freedom and Justice Party and its allies."

Islamists won around 70 per cent in the first parliament, formed earlier this year after the state's popular uprising, which ousted former president Hosni Mubarak last year. The parliament was dissolved last June after a court ruled the laws upon which the election was based were unconstitutional.

According to Mr Sabahy, Islamists are a minority in Egypt and their sweeping victory in politics over the past year and half after the anti-Mubarak revolt is due to their strong organisational and grassroots skills, which he said is working to emulate in his new liberal front.

"This front will end the contradiction that is happening in Egypt now with the organised minority acquiring the majority in parliament, and the presidency, while the divided majority hold a minority in parliament," Mr Sabahy said.

Mr Sabahy has recently founded the leftist Public Current movement but says he does not seek to revive old socialist economic policies like nationalisation of private industries.

He has called for a system that combines public and private sector elements on the condition that it serves all the people and not just wealthy shareholders.

About 40 per cent of Egyptians are currently either poor, uneducated or both - and millions are unemployed.