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Late Entry: Anti-Corruption Crusader Leaps Into Egypt’s Presidential Race

The youngest in a crowded field of presidential contenders, labor activist Khaled Ali is also the last to announce his candidacy. Not that it was his fault. Until turning 40 this past Sunday, he wasn’t technically old enough to run for the country's highest office.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Mr. Ali (center-left) is ready to be a contender (Gigi Ibrahim)

CAIRO -- Legally too young to run until this past Sunday – his 40th birthday – lawyer and labor activist Khaled Ali has just thrown this hat into the ring for Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential race. He faces a crowded field that includes Amr Moussa, the ex-secretary general of the Arab League, and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative television host.

“My entire platform is built on the basis of social justice,” Ali said Monday in front of a crowded audience at the Journalists Syndicate. “I am the simple folk’s candidate.”

With the election set to take place this coming June, Ali’s announcement comes a bit “late,” admit some supporters. “Not many are familiar with labor movements, so we will have to work extra hard to spread the word and make his work known,” said Magdy Saleh, a member of the Pharmaceutical Workers Syndicate.

Ali is not, however, an unknown in Egypt, where as the founder and director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, and a legal activist for much of the last two decades, he made a name for himself as a staunch advocate for social justice, especially in the public sector.

He also led the case against government corruption during the Hosni Mubarak years, taking government officials to court for illegally selling public land and public sector factories. Most notably, Ali was able to get verdicts on cases that returned some large companies to the public. He was also a driving force behind a 2001 ruling to grant professionals’ and workers’ syndicates more freedoms, as well as a 2010 decision to increase the national minimum wage.

Drawing a crowd

Running as an independent, Ali believes he is strengthened by his history as an activist, crusader for the poor and a force for change. The main points of his platform include making Egypt a regional hub for economic cooperation, protecting natural resources and mineral wealth, reversing corrupt government deals from the past, rehabilitating farmland, and solving unemployment while ensuring workers’ rights.

Many representatives of workers’ and farmers’ unions traveled a long way to attend Ali’s announcement and endorse his candidacy in appreciation of the work he has done with them in the past. “He repeatedly stood with workers from our areas and fought to get their rights. That is why I made the [four-hour] trip over to stand with him. He is the right man, and will always fight for the right causes,” said Samir Naguib, who heads the Quarry Workers Syndicate in Minya Governorate.

Before handing in his official candidacy papers, Ali must gather at least 30,000 endorsements from at least 15 governorates, or from 30 members of Parliament, to be able to officially run. Coming from a simple rural family in the Daqahlia Governorate and working in a legal NGO with modest funding, Ali and his campaigners acknowledge they will be running at a financial disadvantage.

Assuming he does meet the requirements, Ali’s likely opponents – besides Amr Moussa and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail – will include Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the guidance bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood; Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, an Islamic scholar; Bothaina Kamel, a leading political activist in last year’s revolution; and Ahmed Shafik, an Air Marshal and the last prime minster under Mubarak.

Read the full story by Mohamed Elmeshad

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Photo - Gigi Ibrahim

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