Middle East
2:52 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Egypt's New President Could Come From Old Guard

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 6:34 pm

In Egypt's historic presidential race, opinion polls place the oldest candidate with the most political experience far ahead of his 11 rivals.

Many opponents try to portray Amr Moussa as a holdover from the hated regime of Hosni Mubarak. Moussa was Egypt's foreign minister under Mubarak and later the secretary-general of the Arab League.

Yet many voters believe he is the only candidate who can end the country's growing insecurity and economic problems.

Moussa, 75, proudly recalls his disputes with Mubarak, who eventually pushed him out as Egypt's foreign minister. Moussa also lauds the revolution that forced his former boss from power.

But he adds that the time has come for stability to be restored in Egypt. Moussa says he only plans to serve one term. That would be just long enough, he says, to get the country back on its feet again.

His campaign manager, Hisham Youssef, says supporters believe Moussa can help heal the growing political divisions here.

"He has been working on issues pertaining to reconciliation all over the Arab world for the last decade or two," says Youssef. "So this is one of the reasons why he can be instrumental in trying to achieve the objective of reconciliation and healing at a time when Egypt needs that most."

Appeals To Different Sectors

Moussa's platform appealed to a wealthy industrialist crowd at a recent campaign event. He's also found support among older, secular Egyptians and Coptic Christians, who believe he can curb the rising power of the Islamists who now control parliament.

The Islamists, in turn, warn pious Muslims that a vote for Moussa is a vote to revive the old regime.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the southern city of Aswan call Moussa a feloul, or remnant of the Mubarak era.

Moussa's connection to Mubarak comes up time and again with Egyptians who oppose him. One is cinematographer and activist Mahmoud Hamed Mahmoud, who accuses Moussa of being complicit in the previous government's corruption.

Critics Say He'll Block Change

Youth groups who helped force Mubarak from power are also suspicious, says Khaled Fahmy, who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo.

"I consider him to be a danger to the revolution. He will try and roll it back, not by arresting people as such, but by saying the revolution is over," Fahmy says. "We cannot push forward with what really is the main issue, which is the deep state, the security apparatus, the way the military is dominating every aspect of the Egyptian administration."

Moussa's campaign manager, Youssef, says Moussa will tackle those issues, but slowly.

"Democracy is a process, and dealing with the army in a similar way as do mature democracies will take some time," he says.

With just days to go until the voting begins May 23, Moussa remains firmly ahead in Egyptian opinion polls. His key rivals trail by at least 20 percentage points.

Moussa supporters like minibus driver Salem Abdel-Fattah believe he will end the country's high unemployment. Other Egyptians laud his strong stance against Israel.

But Youssef says the candidate isn't taking his lead for granted.

"It is the first time that we have elections in Egypt in a fair and a transparent way," Youssef says. "We are having to try all kinds of things and learn as we go along."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Egypt's historic presidential race, polls place the oldest candidate with the most political experience far ahead of his 11 rivals. Many opponents try to portray Amr Moussa as a holdover from the hated Mubarak regime. Moussa was Egypt's foreign minister under Mubarak and, later, the secretary general of the Arab League.

But many voters believe that he is the only candidate who can end the country's growing insecurity and solve its economic problems. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Amr Moussa's campaign team flaunts his credentials in glossy multimedia ads like this one played at a recent industrialist convention here.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

NELSON: The 75-year-old proudly recalls his disputes with former president, Hosni Mubarak, who eventually sent the longtime foreign minister away to the Arab League. Moussa also lauds the revolution that forced his former boss from power, but he adds the time has come for stability to be restored in Egypt.

Moussa says he only plans to serve one term, just long enough, he says, to get the country back on its feet again. His campaign manager, Hisham Youssef, says supporters believe Moussa can help heal the growing political divisions here.

HISHAM YOUSSEF: The reason is that he has been working on issues pertaining to reconciliation all over the Arab world in the last decade or two. So this is one of the reasons why he can be instrumental in trying to achieve the objective of reconciliation and healing at a time when Egypt needs that most.

NELSON: Moussa's platform appealed to the wealthy industrialist crowd at the recent campaign event. He's also found support among older secular Egyptians and Coptic Christians who believe he can curb the rising power of the Islamists who now control parliament.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING AND CLAPPING)

NELSON: The Islamists, in turn, warn pious Muslims that a vote for Moussa is a vote to revive the old regime.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING AND CLAPPING)

NELSON: These Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the southern city of Aswan call Moussa a feloul, or remnant of the Mubarak era. Moussa's connection to Mubarak comes up time and again with Egyptians who oppose him.

One is cinematographer and activist, Mahmoud Hamed Mahmoud.

MAHMOUD HAMED MAHMOUD: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He accuses Moussa of being complicit in the previous government's corruption. Youth groups who helped force Mubarak from power are also suspicious, says Khaled Fahmy, who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo.

KHALED FAHMY: I consider him to be a danger to the revolution. He will try and hold it back, not by arresting people as such, but by saying the revolution is over. We cannot push forward with what really is the main issue, which is the deep state, the security apparatus, the way the military is dominating every aspect of the Egyptian administration.

NELSON: His campaign manager says Moussa will tackle those issues, but slowly.

YOUSSEF: Democracy is a process and dealing with the army in a similar way as to mature democracies will take some time.

NELSON: With less than a week to go until the voting begins, Moussa remains firmly ahead in Egyptian opinion polls. His key rivals trail by at least 20 percentage points.

SALEM ABDEL-FATTAH: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Moussa supporters, like mini bus driver Salem Abdel-Fattah, believe he will end unemployment. Other Egyptians laud his strong stance against Israel, but campaign manager Youssef says the candidate isn't taking his lead for granted.

YOUSSEF: It is the first time that we have elections in Egypt in a fair and a transparent way. We are having to try all kinds of things and learn as we go along.

NELSON: He adds, Moussa will continue a grueling schedule of appearances across Egypt through next Monday, when the campaign season ends.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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