Egypt’s got a Ringer

Posted: March 18, 2011 in Middle East/North Africa
Secretary General Amr Moussa at the World Economic Forum, January 2007.

Secretary General Amr Moussa at the World Economic Forum, January 2007.

Talking heads in Washington warned of a political vacuum in Egypt when Mubarak stepped down. But as things stand now, there’s a shoe-in for the next president. Ladies and Gentleman, Amr Moussa.

Some Background

Amr Moussa received his law degree from Cairo University in 1957 and went on to work for the United Nations. From the late 1970’s through his appointment as foreign minister in the National Democratic Party (NDP) under the recently ousted Hosni Mubark in 1990, Moussa served as director of the department of international organizations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt. In 2001 he was appointed as the secretary general of the Arab League.

The Populist

As things stand now, Moussa’s got Egypt locked down. A poll conducted by Middle East research firm YouGovSiraj, showed of the 1871 Egyptians polled 49% believe Moussa should lead the next government—the candidate coming closest in popularity was Nobel Prize winning chemist  Ahmad Zewei at just 13%.  Moussa’s popularity was  solidified through his his consistently scathing criticism of Israel’s foreign policy.  In 2005 Moussa said,  “We know the Israeli position is negative when it comes to peace, when it comes to initiatives of peace.” Moussa called the Gaza flotilla incident an “atrocity and assault.” Despite Mubarak’s photo ops with Israeli President Netanyahu, Moussa’s consistent censure of Israel appeals to many Egyptians.

The former prime minister received unanimous support for his appointment as secretary general of the Arab League. Time Magazine said Moussa is “perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab World” and former Egyptian deputy foreign minister Abdallah al-Ashal went as far to call Moussa a “media star.” Two weeks ago, Moussa took the unprecedented initiative to strip Libya of its membership in the Arab League. The move further isolated Qaddafi and  was looked upon favorably by both the West and the broader Middle East. And while his popularity stems, in large part, from his scathing criticism of Israel, he quelled anxieties last week saying were he to take office, he would uphold the 1979 Peace Treaty between the two countries.

Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the NDP-Egypt’s two political strongmen- will stand in Moussa’s way. Moussa served as foreign minister with the NDP under Mubarak, and rumor has it he was moved to the Arab League when Mubarak felt he was becoming too popular. But having worked with the party before, he is a known entity. He can navigate the scene and work with the players.

The Muslim Brotherhood has backed former chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel Laureate Mohamad El Baradei for the presidency and under Mubarak’s regime and Moussa’s former party, the Brotherhood was suppressed. But Moussa has said that the Muslim Brotherhood is “part and parcel” of the Egyptian political scene and would expect their full participation in elections. So while he may not be favored by the Brotherhood, if elected they will work with Moussa

The Barriers

As it stands there are two  obstacles standing in Moussa’s way. First, he hasn’t affiliated himself with a party. Although previously with the NDP,  running on their ticket could take a toll on his popularity. The narrative that he was removed from his seat as foreign minister because his popularity irked Mubarak won’t live on if he returns to the party. Being affiliated with the NDP, the party of Mubarak’s thirty year autocracy, isn’t going to do good things for Moussa.  But there is nothing stopping Moussa from running as an independent.

The other problem is Mr. Moussa came late to the party. Moussa came to Tahir Square to support the protesters on February 4– ten days after the movement took to the streets in full force. But Moussa has pushed for a full rewrite of the Egyptian constitution saying that the proposed amendments still leave far too much power to in office of the president. This compounded by Moussa’s announcement that he would only run for one term has made it very clear: Moussa is not Mubarak.

The Takeaway

Moussa is in good shape now, but the results of tomorrow’s referendum on the proposed amendments will give us some more intel. If the amendments pass, the scheduled August elections will stay on track and allow the already strong candidates to consolidate power. But if they are voted down and there continues to be demand for a constitutional re-write, elections could easily be postponed to late fall. In that case, we could see some more candidates coming out of the woodwork. Stay tuned…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s