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Don’t discount Sabahi in Egypt’s presidential race

The prospect of a "civilian opposition" depends on Hamdeen Sabahi’s performance, win or lose, against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Egypt's leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi speaks during a rally in Banha, northwest of Cairo May 7, 2014. Egyptians will vote in presidential elections on May 26 and 27.  REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR3O71Q

Egypt’s presidential campaign has formally started, and political talk shows have become the new frontier for candidates Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi to flex their muscles and charm the public. Although it's hard to assess the real impact of these talk show interviews on viewers, they have clearly highlighted crucial aspects of the candidates’ manifestoes, personalities and styles. Contrary to earlier assumptions, the performance of both candidates in TV interviews has changed the perceptions of some and raised alarm bells for others. Overall, they have increased the prospect of a competitive election. Many who considered Sabahi’s candidacy a meaningless exercise are now asking themselves whether he can in fact gain enough support. However, a question mark hangs over the percentage of votes Sabahi can win.   

In Egypt’s fluid and occasionally stormy political scene, the benchmark for assessing the potential performance of presidential candidates has drifted dramatically since the 2012 election scene, and even from January’s constitutional referendum. Ultimately, the TV interviews have exposed a few myths and provided the Egyptian public with two clear choices:

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