Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 June - 6 July 2011
Issue No. 1054
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Running behind

Presidential front-runner Amr Moussa seems determined to keep on campaigning come what may, reports Dina Ezzat

This was not at all the best week for Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League and presidential aspirant of Egypt. The week started with the announcement of early results of an ongoing poll conducted on Facebook by the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) for all the proposed candidates for the presidential elections that should take place in the first few weeks of 2012, aimed at bringing about Egypt's first ever truly elected president since the republic was established after the 1952 Revolution that abolished the monarchy.

At the beginning of the week, Moussa ranked fourth after Mohamed El-Baradei, the former chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister of the toppled president Hosni Mubarak who was forced to step down weeks after taking over the job under enormous public pressure, and Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi figure.

By the end of the week, Moussa was sixth after Ayman Nour, the leader of one part of the divided Ghad Party who had run against Mubarak in the 2005 elections and was afterwards sent to jail after having been convicted under the toppled president of rigging papers for the launch of his party.

The poll should end by 19 July with little surprises expected. Sources at the Moussa campaign seemed not to be losing their poise over this poll. They say the poll is "incomprehensible" in the sense that it includes names of individuals that have not announced their intention to run.

"We never said that we are number one all over; we believe that we are number one in many sectors even if not necessarily within the Facebook community that has its sympathisers elsewhere," said one source. He added that other "more representative polls" give a firm advantage to Moussa.

"We are not underestimating any group of Egyptians, certainly not the Facebook community but all we are saying here is that this poll is not restricted to those who are actually running and it is not covering the wider sections of Egyptians who are not on Facebook."

The "Amr Moussa for President Campaign" sources also argue that the "curious" rating of both presidential candidates Hisham El-Bastawisi and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh "says much about this poll".

"I cannot believe that Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh is not there; this man has so much support on the ground -- he is actually seen as the number one candidate given his young age compared to other leading candidates," said Nour Mohamed, a Sohag resident. He adds, "If anybody wants to persuade me that Shafik comes ahead of Abul- Fotouh then I would have to tell them maybe you are talking about the moon, not Egypt. Shafik was not accepted even as a prime minister."

And for Nader Samaan, an accountant from Minya, the results of this poll "are really very surprising". "Are you telling me that a country with a Coptic community of seven to eight per cent, according to the lowest estimates possible, would vote for a Salafi?"

"How come Moussa comes at number five? In any serious poll he would come first or second; and if he is second he would be second to Abul-Fotouh or [Islamist thinker Mohamed] El-Awwa, not second to Mohamed El-Baradei who lived overseas half of his life, even though he has an undeniable contribution in calling for reform," said Mohamed Ahmed, a Cairo taxi driver.

During the same week, Moussa was faced with the unexpected, something incompatible with his history: facilitating Israeli access to buy natural gas from Egypt.

"This is absolutely false and fabricated and those who are trying to spread this silly rumour are only trying to falsify my firm position against succumbing to Israeli will, something that often earned me the wrath of the previous regime," Moussa said in several press statements on Sunday and Monday.

The fuss was started Saturday evening when the website of the newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabei published a copy of a letter on the exports of natural gas to Israel, supposedly leaked by either a source in the Foreign Ministry, where Moussa has occasioned considerable jealousy during his career, or the Ministry of Petroleum where sympathisers of Sameh Fahmi, Mubarak's last petroleum minister lament the legal fix faced by Fahmi who is facing charges of facilitating the exceptionally cheap sale of natural gas to Israel.

The text of the letter that was signed by Moussa, as foreign minister, in 1993 to the then minister of petroleum Hatem El-Bambi calls for the "examination of possible cooperation between Egypt and Israel" in natural gas sales as part of the multilateral cooperation forum in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.

"So there was nothing at all in this letter that is related to the deal that is subject to a public furore and that took place over a decade after Moussa was pushed out of the Foreign Ministry by Mubarak over differences on Cairo's decision to give in to Israeli pressure on the Palestinians during the peace talks," said a source at the presidential campaign of Moussa.

He added that, "it was Moussa who went into a tough confrontation with Mubarak to shut down this multilateral cooperation back in 1996 when he saw that Israel was evading making any serious commitment for peace and that it was compromising basic Palestinian rights," the same source added.

Moreover, according to an official statement issued by the Moussa campaign the project included in the letter that was leaked to Al-Youm Al-Sabei the possibility of securing Italian support to the project that should have essentially included gas exports to Gaza. "So it is a totally different story," the statement suggested.

The fuss over the gas account broke out as Moussa was about to arrive in Alexandria for a new stop of his electoral campaign that has already taken him to several governorates in Upper Egypt.

The plans were not interrupted and the presidential front-runner held his meetings in Alexandria on Sunday and Monday where he spoke to the public about the matter as well as about the poll.

To the generally approving audience Moussa, however, tried to focus on the message of his campaign: the top three priorities for Egypt is democracy "because no future president should be allowed, or rather challenged, to have endless authority"; reform "because there is so much that has to be fixed from education, to healthcare and more"; and development "provided that human resources are acknowledged as a true asset and that a clear plan for economic development is implemented in the interest of all society and not just a limited group."

"The campaign will continue and we know that as we go on we will have good days and bad days and that we will come across many attempts to tarnish the image of our candidate but as Amr Moussa himself says: gone are the times of the uncontested leader," according to a source at the "Amr Moussa for President Campaign".

Moussa has just ended his 10 years as secretary-general of the Arab League and was given a warm farewell by the secretariat of the Arab organisation before moving to the headquarters of his campaign.

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