Assuming that the Egyptian military in sincere in its commitment to hold free and fair elections – a novelty in Egypt – within six months (potentially a large assumption,) the end of 2011 will see the first new president in Egypt’s history in over thirty years. There are many potential candidates for what could be a historic election, including Mohamed ElBaraei (ex-Director General of the IAEA), Ayman Nour (leader of the Al Ghad party and runner-up in the 2005 election), Mohamed el-Katatni (former head of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc) and Amr Moussa (former Secretary General of the Arab League). Yet barring an unexpected twists (Wael Ghonim?), it seems likely that Moussa will become the new president later this year – a development that would be good for Egypt, Palestine and the United States.
Since returning to Egypt from his Vienna home several weeks ago, ElBaradei has received a lot of press as the potential leader of the Egyptian opposition. Yet despite his popularity in the west, ElBaradei largely lacks legitimacy in Egypt. He is seen as an outsider who is not in touch with the domestic Egyptian situation. In a straw poll last week ElBaradei received a mere 3% of the Egyptian vote. Nour, though a popular dissident, could potentially be barred from running for office after being imprisoned for fraud in 2005 and the Muslim Brotherhood has said that it will not run candidates for president. This leaves the popular Moussa (having won 26% of the aforementioned straw poll) as the leading candidate.
Moussa started his career as the ambassador to India and quickly moved forward to the UN and was appointed foreign minister by Mubarak in 1991 – where he served 10 efficient years, raising his popularity with the Egyptian people. In 2001, Mubarak pushed Moussa to the Arab League, amidst rumors that Moussa was becoming too well liked for Mubarak. Moussa’ career has prepared him well to lead the country, as he has successfully managed to increase his profile on the international scene while concurrently remaining immensely popular among the Egyptian masses:
“Moussa combines several assets,” says an Arab diplomat who knows him well. “He has the experience, a very solid international address book and bags of charisma. He also has the common touch, much more than someone like Mohamed ElBaradei, who is typically upper middle class.”
Moussa would run under a more traditional Arab-Nationalist banner, representing the interests of Egyptians over those of the United States and the west. However, Moussa has been critical and supportive of the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, thus he represents a favorable candidate for both Israel and the United States (a guarantee against the abrogation of the peace treaty) while his criticisms of Israeli policy better represent the views of the Egyptian people than the pliable policies of Mubarak. Indeed, Moussa was the first Arab official to visit Gaza since 2007 when he made the trip in June of last year. Also in 2010, Moussa was vocal in support of a UN resolution against Israeli settlement construction and supported the Arab League demand that the UN ensure the removal of Israel’s siege on Gaza. While these decisions run contrary to the Israeli and American policies of suppressing the Gaza Strip, it goes over well with an Egyptian public that was largely embarrassed by Egypt’s role in locking down Gaza.
For Israel and the United States, there are not better alternatives to Mubarak. The former president ruled Egypt as a consul of the west, seemingly more dedicated to the security of Israel and America’s war on terror than the wellbeing of the Egyptian people. With a democratic Egypt, the main interests of the United States and Egypt would be secured by the election of Moussa; the Israeli peace treaty would be secured and Moussa would likely remain a solid ally of the United States (leading some to believe that he is a favorite of the United States). At the expense of Israel, though, Moussa would likely look to reform Egypt’s policy on the Gaza Strip, perhaps opening the borders that Mubarak closed, thus easing the life of millions of Palestinians to Egypt’s north (though it is difficult to imagine any of the potential candidates not reviewing Egypt’s Gaza policy). Most importantly, though, Moussa would represent a real change for Egyptians. He would be a politician dedicated to Egyptian democracy and the growth of the Egyptian state.
Photo from Jean-Claude Aunos