Mansoura - Presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi criss-crossed swathes of the Nile Delta in a boisterous election campaign, vowing to rebuild a politically turbulent Egypt as he addressed crowds of supporters in a city struck by a deadly bombing.
Leftist leader Sabbahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential election that Islamist Mohamed Morsi won, is seen by his supporters as a serious challenger to former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who is tipped to win the 26-27 May poll easily.
Sabbahi, a longtime opposition leader known for his criticisms of former Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, is leaving no stone unturned in his campaign despite slim chances of winning against Sisi.
"We are going to build a new, modern and progressive state based on social justice and human dignity," said Sabbahi to crowds of cheering men and women in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, 120km northeast of the capital, as he addressed a rally late on Thursday, just metres away from the site of a deadly suicide car bombing in December.
Jubilant women and men
That attack on Mansoura police headquarters, which is now under construction, killed more than a dozen policemen and led to the blacklisting of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement as "terrorist organisation" by the military-installed authorities.
"Our programme ensures that every Egyptian martyr's right, be it a citizen, a policeman or a soldier, or anyone from any political affiliation, is returned," Sabbahi said as crowds of youths chanted "Go left or right, Hamdeen is the best!"
"All Egyptians, men and women, will have their rights. In my presidency the state will serve the people and not the other way," he said as crowds shouted "You don't have to be a marshal to be big," in an apparent reference to retired field marshal Sisi.
Before his address began, Sabbahi, a former parliamentarian, was thronged by crowds when his campaign entourage entered Mansoura after criss-crossing several towns and villages in the province of Dakhaliya in the Nile Delta.
"The son of farmers has arrived," shouted young men and women as they hugged, kissed and lifted the 59-year-old politician as hundreds of supporters waved white flags with his picture printed on them and flashed the victory sign.
As he was led to the rally, fireworks were set off, while jubilant men and women cheered and honked their cars as they joined the procession.
Sabbahi says he and his campaign reflects the revolutionaries who toppled two presidents since 2011, longtime strongman Mubarak and Islamist Morsi, and who aim to achieve "bread, freedom and social justice" - the demands of millions of protesters who ousted Mubarak.
"He is a true civilian candidate," said Mona Mahmoud, 23, a resident of Dekerness, a village on the outskirts of Mansoura.
"He knows what a common man undergoes and what his problems are like illiteracy and poverty, while Sisi thinks only in terms of security and terrorism. Sabbahi is one of us," said a conservatively dressed Mahmoud, who wore a headscarf.
The main square of the village was full of Sabbahi supporters who had gathered on a hot, sunny day to see him as his convoy, escorted by several police cars, drove towards Mansoura.
On several occasions, Sabbahi supporters angrily chased or threw sandals at passing vehicles which had posters of Sisi displayed.
In March, field marshal Sisi left the military when he announced his candidacy for president.
He is expected to win the election as millions laud him for ousting the divisive Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.
Morsi's one year in office was rocked by protests accusing him of monopolising power and deteriorating an already dilapidated economy.
"We toppled two presidents but Egypt is still not calming down," Sabbahi told AFP at the start of campaigning on Thursday.
"And it will not calm down unless it becomes a [democratic] state. For this to happen it is necessary to have a candidate who represents the revolutionary goals, which is what we are doing."
But not everybody is convinced.
"Egypt needs an army man to tackle the current situation and Sabbahi has no experience in this the way Sisi does," said Mohamed Gad, a farmer as he loaded rolls of sugarcanes in a pick-up truck to be sold in the market of Mansoura.
"My vote at the moment is for Sisi."