Moussa Mostafa Moussa, Sisi’s last-minute rival, ‘running to win’

He said he decided to run for president at the last minute when he saw other candidates withdrawing from the race.
Sunday 04/02/2018
Moussa Mostafa Moussa, head of the centrist El-Ghad Party. (Saeed Shahat)
High hopes. Moussa Mostafa Moussa, head of the centrist El-Ghad Party. (Saeed Shahat)

CAIRO - Last-minute candidate Moussa Mostafa Moussa, head of the centrist El-Ghad Party, faces an almost impossible electoral task in challenging Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, particularly since he was publicly backing Sisi’s re-election a few weeks ago.

Moussa, a civil engineer-turned-politician, sought to bolster his election chances and prove he is more than a makeweight candidate by setting out his political vision for Egypt.

“I have a programme to solve Egypt’s economic problems,” Moussa said in an interview with The Arab Weekly. “I just want the people to judge me by my thoughts.”

Moussa was confirmed as Sisi’s only election rival after a registration period that included the arrest or withdrawal of more well-known candidates, such as former Chief of Staff Sami Anan and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Moussa’s about-face from Sisi backer to rival candidate raised eyebrows, with a coalition of Egyptian opposition parties and figures calling for a boycott of the March 26-28 elections.

However, internally, hopes are high within El-Ghad Party that Moussa can serve as a credible challenger to Sisi and rescue an election process.

“I will launch a strong electoral campaign that will reach everybody, everywhere in Egypt,” Moussa said. “If elected, I want Egyptians to give me just six months and I promise them that their living conditions will improve.”

Moussa made headlines in 2005 when he contested liberal politician Ayman Nour for the El-Ghad Party’s leadership. The struggle resulted in clashes between the two leaders’ backers that led to the burning of the party’s headquarters at a historic building in Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square.

Moussa was confirmed as the El-Ghad Party’s leader in 2011 by a state-run committee responsible for licensing political parties. Since then, however, El-Ghad has stagnated and the party doesn’t have a single seat in parliament.

Moussa’s unexpected run as Sisi’s only opponent is viewed by many as a political stunt and has failed to impress many ordinary Egyptians, including a taxi driver looking for a fare just metres from El-Ghad Party headquarters.

“I haven’t heard of him,” the taxi driver said when asked about Moussa. “Whoever he is, he is not popular at all.”

Moussa said he planned to appear on television, meet the public on the streets and have public rallies across the country to ensure that his views are heard and to increase his name recognition. However, questions remain as to whether a candidate who has always been a strong backer of Sisi will dare criticise the sitting president.

One area in which Moussa offered gentle criticism is the economic situation in Egypt and particularly Sisi’s spending hundreds of billions of dollars on development projects when many Egyptians’ basic needs are not being fulfilled.

“Instead of spending all this money on all these projects at one time, Sisi should have completed these projects one after another to spare money for improving services and subsidising food for the people,” Moussa said. “This is what we will try to do.”

Few outside of El-Ghad Party headquarters are taking Moussa’s candidacy seriously. Many politicians criticised him and the party for agreeing to run in an election he will almost certainly lose. Al-Wafd, Egypt’s oldest political party, stymied an attempted election bid by its leader, El-Sayed el-Badawi, fearing embarrassment to the party.

“This is a political farce,” said Samir Ghattas, a member of parliament and staunch Sisi advocate. “Moussa belongs to a weak party that has no political history whatsoever.”

Some of Moussa’s party members resigned to protest his candidacy. Egyptian opposition figures decried an election between Sisi and a pro-Sisi candidate, asserting that Moussa is only in the election to save the incumbent president the embarrassment of running uncontested.

Still, many in Egypt view Moussa as a hero for the same reason, saying his doomed candidacy is preserving Egypt’s election process. “Moussa’s candidacy will enrich Egypt’s political life,” said Hosni Hafez, a senior member of Al-Wafd Party.

“Everybody knows that he is running an unequal competition,” Hafez said, “but, by running, he at least encourages other political parties to take political participation more seriously.”

Participation is one thing Moussa wants to encourage. He said he decided to run for president on the last day applications could be submitted when he saw other candidates withdrawing from the race.

“The chance is there for everybody to run, even as some people believe otherwise,” he said.

Apart from his economic message, Moussa’s take on Egypt’s security situation does not differ much from Sisi’s views and the leader of El-Ghad Party is known to be a strong opponent of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

One of the main dangers facing Egypt, he said, comes from Islamist sleeper cells.

“Terrorist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood still want to come to power,” Moussa said. “I know these people very well.”

As for foreign policy, Moussa appears to have taken a stronger line than Sisi and spoke candidly about Arab countries working together to confront the “intransigence” of the United States, particularly criticising the White House’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Moussa said that, if he were elected, he would keep the peace with Israel, so long as the Jewish state abided by the 1979 peace treaty.

Moussa strongly denied that he was merely participating in the election for political theatre.

“I am running in the elections to win, not to put on a show,” Moussa said. “President Sisi did his best to improve conditions in Egypt in the past four years but I believe it is time for a different kind of thinking.”