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  • Friday ,17 January 2014

Egypt's veteran diplomatic operative rebranded


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Friday ,17 January 2014

Egypt's veteran diplomatic operative rebranded

Amr Moussa, who chaired the 50-member committee that worked through thick and thin to produce the charter's near 250 articles at a time of clear societal divide, has managed to return to the centre of the political sphere from a new door after he had lost a bulk of his lustre. 

As eligible Egyptian voters headed to the polls to cast their ballots on an all but fully rewritten constitution, many Egyptians, including even some of those determined to vote against it, praised the draft charter for having produced a much advanced state-citizen democratic relationship.
The veteran diplomat partially disappeared from the limelight after his huge failure in the first presidential elections post the 25 January uprising in 2012, which observers attributed to his close relationship with the ousted president's Mubarak old regime. 
However, today, it has become almost impossible to spot a debate about the text of the draft constitution, whether backing or opposing it, without a positive reference being made to the chair of the 50-member drafting committee. Many former critics even admit Moussa's skills as a diplomat and personal charm and firmness have allowed for this document to materialise on time without a single member walking out and with substantial criticism limited to only a few articles essentially perceived to have granted the armed forces, and its head, an advantageous status.
With the Committee of 50, as with many other stops in his career, Moussa embarked on the task with the welcome of some and concluded it with the praise of many.
Members of the committee who privately spoke to Ahram Online expressed unequivocal dismay over having "lost this man for president of Egypt" when he was denied a re-run after nominating himself in 2012, along with other political figures, due to what is now openly recognised as a heavy out-of-the-polling-station intervention against him.
This regret is a sentiment shared by many beyond the few who worked with Moussa for over three months to produce the document that should lead the way towards a democratic or, at least, a less authoritarian Egypt. It is a sentiment that was echoed all across social media last year by some hardcore revolutionary figures who had previously stood firm against Moussa on account of his 10 years at the helm of the foreign service in the middle of the three-decade rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
It is even the sentiment of those who heavily financed the electoral campaign of Mubarak’s long-time close associate and last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, the man who was supported by the state and who lost to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi.
“We should have known that there and then – and actually now too – Shafik was simply unelectable and that he was very divisive; we should have lobbied hard behind Amr Moussa and we should have convinced those who mattered in the state not to oppose him,” said one prominent businessman.
Whether or not it was possible to convince those who mattered back then to drop a veto over a man whose pride is invariably dictating the limitations of an otherwise obvious diplomatic taste for compromises now remains little more than an academic debate.
“Moussa is someone who does make a compromise, and he is uninhibited about it, but he is someone with unmasked personal pride and he is also someone who cannot resist pushing the lines; he would not have yielded to the will of those who wanted to be in control behind the scenes; they knew it, and they spared themselves the trial and error,” said an independent politician who had been witness to the inter-state debate over the presidential runners in the wake of Mubarak's ouster in 2011.
According to all independent polls conducted prior to the 2012 elections, Moussa was rated first, or second at least. However, according to the same informed politician, “they wanted to humiliate him; they wanted him hard-defeated so that he would be gone once and for all; they failed.”
Having come fifth, at the tale of every other prominent presidential hopeful, Moussa typically did not become the victim his foes had hoped him to be. He declined from revealing the story behind his orchestrated defeat and he refused to be a sour looser.
But Moussa also declined to go away, as wished by those who were jealous of his popularity as foreign minister in the 1990s – a popularity that occasioned the harsh jealousy of none other than Mubarak and his top aides, as well as the apprehension of his then ever so hopeful son, Gamal, who was being groomed for succession.
In February 2000, Moussa was nominated Arab League secretary-general, a job perceived as the refrigerator where the prominent diplomat would sit tight and be forgotten. He survived the challenge, and granted the otherwise not very efficient Arab organisation its highest world positioning since the heydays of pan-Arabism.
“One day, the presidency called the foreign minister's office and the clear instruction was to inform the embassy of [a key southern American country] that its visiting president should not go to the Arab League as had been scheduled,” recalled a diplomat who was then an officer on duty.
A tough mission that he failed to accomplish, because the embassy said the concerned president – who was not short of praise for Amr Moussa – would rather cancel his trip than annul the Arab League stop.
During his 10 years at the top of the pan-Arab organisation, Moussa was subject to a fierce campaign of character assassination orchestrated with the sole purpose of discrediting him as a possible alternative to Mubarak.
“The scheme was that Gamal should be seen as the only alternative; it did not work because Gamal, despite the hard work and training, failed to impress the public opinion that by and large saw him as an elitist face with no direct association to the Egyptian taste,” said one diplomat who worked as part of the Gamal promotion team. He added, “Moussa was particularly discredited during these years but no, we cannot say that we considered him really dead.”
On the eve of the 25 January revolution, Moussa – who had already stirred renewed controversy by suggesting he might challenge Gamal Mubarak if Mubarak did not run in what were scheduled to be 2011 presidential elections, only to make a U-turn and say the road was blocked anyway – told an Arab summit that Tunis was not going to be the first or last revolution against dictatorship.
Having promoted a document for Arab political reform in 2004, Moussa told heads of states present at the Arab summit that they all but missed the opportunity when they turned their backs to the call of reform and that the revolution would be knocking at many doors.
When the revolution started in Egypt, Moussa was not fast enough to join. "I went to his house in the middle of the night and told him 'come and let us go to Tahrir Square now'; I was confident that if he made it he would be the next president. He hesitated; he hesitated at the wrong moment, and I think he told himself that, as someone who belongs to the state, despite the disagreements and all, he cannot be the one to challenge the regime so soon," said a public figure.
A few days later, Moussa ventured into Tahrir Square and was met with a mixed bag of reactions. Some welcomed him, but others initiated the cry of ‘foloul’ (remnant of Mubarak regime) at him.
This was about the only thing that was levelled against Moussa during his entire presidential campaign – it was said by angry youths who attended the rallying campaigns he'd held across the nation in a manner unlike any other presidential candidate, and it was said during the one and only presidential debate in which Moussa faced Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, the politician who was expected by every single poll to be his adversary in the run-up.
It only took ousted president Mohamed Morsi three months in office to prompt many of those who'd thrown the ‘foloul’ trait in Moussa's face to lament the missed opportunity of having had a statesman familiar with the ins and outs of the Mubarak regime, but who'd had a fall-out over national choices of foreign policy that the then prominent top diplomat had perceived as far too succumbing to Israeli- and US-imposed lines.
Still, it was Moussa who had called for the creation of the National Salvation Front (NSF), joined by Mohamed ElBaradei -- who later became vice president for foreign affairs to current interim head of state Adly Mansour -- and Hamdin Sabbahi, who started towards the end of 2012 to assemble a public campaign for the ouster of Morsi.
Today, the NSF is no more. Nor is ElBaradei, who quit the job after the bloody dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps last August. Moussa stands in a far more prominent public spot than Sabbahi, who has seen the NSF turn its back on him as its favourite candidate for the presidential elections of 2014.
Furthermore, Moussa, who has been allowed to live for a few months without the harsh defamation campaign that had otherwise been conducted by state-security services, is again being himself in siding with the choices of the state.
The head of the Committee of 50, whose approval rate is once more at a high, openly said he would not run for president and that he supports the wide public demand for Army Chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who executed the ouster of Morsi on 3 July, to be head of state.
In doing so, Moussa was subjected to criticism for having all but promoted the proposition of a military – even if to promptly resign into a civilian – president. This time around, he is far from being alone and far from being foloul, as some key revolutionary names – or supposedly so – have been preaching the endless advantages of having El-Sisi as president.
The open debate now centres on whether or not Moussa would be prime minister if El-Sisi were to become president, as has been firmly recommended by some of the latter's closest advisors, or speaker of parliament, as has been suggested by some of the Committee of 50 members.
Perhaps either, and perhaps neither. How things will develop if El-Sisi really were to become president remains unclear. What is plain enough, however, is that Moussa will continue to be around, living up to challenges and surviving through an accumulated political and diplomatic experience firmly complemented by an unyielding charisma.