As the presidential field narrows, Amr Moussa rises

As the presidential field narrows, Amr Moussa rises

The former foreign minister may yet overcome Egyptians’ hostility to all vestiges of the Mubarak regime

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Amr Moussa in January (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Amr Moussa in January (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

Amr Moussa, a veteran Egyptian diplomat and leading presidential candidate, has good reason to be happy. On Tuesday, three of his main opponents were removed from the electoral race by Egypt’s high elections committee, leaving him virtually alone to contend for the desired position less than a month before polls open.

Moussa did not gloat at his adversaries’ predicament as he launched a series of bullet points outlining his political program on Twitter Wednesday, promising Egyptians a better future through bombastic platitudes mixed with vague political and economic statements.

“My vision is a loyal translation of the revolution’s goals: freedom, social justice and human dignity,” he wrote. “Egypt requires almost total rebuilding. I will lay the ground for Egypt’s second republic, a republic detached from what came before.”

But Moussa is very much attached to what came before. A foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak between 1991 and 2001, Moussa went on to head the Cairo-based Arab League for another decade. Unlike the Islamist candidates Khairat Shater and Hazem Abu-Ismail who were disqualified on Tuesday, Moussa served at the heart of the ancien régime.

Yet many Egyptian commentators breathed a sigh of relief following the election committee announcement, regarding Moussa’s candidacy as the lesser evil.

“Shater, Abu Ismail, Suleiman out? Thank God,” wrote independent Egyptian journalist Issandr El-Amrani in his popular blog on Tuesday. He added that given Egypt’s fragmented society and political elite, the commission’s decision “may turn out to be a blessing, no matter how unfair.”

Moussa's leading opponent, Islamist candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Moussa's leading opponent, Islamist candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

“I’ll leave the wondering about whether the commission came to this conclusion by itself, through SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) pressure, or as part of an elaborate multi-party deal,” Al-Amrani wrote, adding that now Amr Moussa and independent Islamist candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh are best placed to win the elections.

“And that’s something that, either way, most Egyptians can probably live with.”

Islamist candidates still hold significant appeal in Egypt, but a split in Egypt’s religious vote will likely leave Moussa victorious, former Egyptian deputy prime minister and constitutional expert Yaha Gamal told Egypt’s Dream TV station Wednesday. Two Islamist candidates are still vying for power in the presidential race: the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party leader Muhammad Mursi and independent candidate Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh.

Moussa and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi (photo credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Moussa and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi (photo credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A poll released April 2 by the Al-Ahram Center for political and strategic studies gave Moussa the lead, with 31.5% of the Egyptian vote. It found, however, that 57.6% of the electorate would prefer an Islamist candidate.

On Wednesday Moussa scheduled a press conference to announce his political campaign in the downtrodden neighborhood of Ozbat Al-Hagana near Cairo. The location was not selected at random; Moussa titled his campaign “Poverty is Egypt’s first enemy.”

In his 80-page political platform, looking far ahead with a great deal of optimism, Moussa vowed to cut unemployment in half within a decade and eliminate illiteracy for Egyptians under 40 by the end of his presidency. The events of the last few days have certainly boosted his chances of getting the job.

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