Arab League chief Amr Moussa speaks in front of a few hundred Egyptians in a cultural center in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek (Photo: AP)
The audience to hear Amr Moussa talk, not in his capacity as Arab League secretary general but as a presidential runner, was large and varied. People filled the El-Sawy Culture Wheel hall and spilled outside where they watched on monitors.
Moussa's three hour talk was in effect the launch of the first ever genuine' presidential campaign as a potential candidate – yet to officially announce his candidature – was talking directly and without censorship to the people who will have the right to freely vote for him.
This was never the case in the years of Mubarak’s rule. During the 2005 campaign for Mubarak's fourth and, as it turned out, last term in office, the toppled head of state ran a few staged campaign events attended by members of his party dressed up like the every-day suffering citizens and firmly passed through security checks.
That was before the January 25 Revolution that many hope will once and for all changed the face of the way politics are done in Egypt in a way that would not allow for any future rulers to stay in office for 30 years with plans to pass on the position to their children.
"Of course I will not be another Mubarak," said Moussa in response to a question posed by one of the hundreds in attendance.
Moussa was keen to stress from the beginning that when he announces his candidacy for president, he would say it in plain and no uncertain terms that he is running for only one four-year term. It is a term, he added, whereby "the president to be elected by the people" should head the executive body within a firmly regulated mandate that does not entrust him with all the powers over the executive, judiciary and legislative powers.
And the “to-be-elected-president,” Moussa added, should be able to rule in the name of people and "that means to do what the majority of the people would agree to" rather than rule the people "as the case was before."
Upon entering the hall of El-Sawy Culture Wheel, a well-frequented venue for cultural and political events, Moussa was given one of the many warm welcomes that he has been used to since his days as foreign minister of Egypt from 1991 to 2001 and that he managed to still prompt during a tough decade at the head of the Arab League. This was only the beginning – the rest was considerably different.
The popular Egyptian diplomat – who still carries himself as one rather than a presidential contender – faced a grilling with questions over his association with the previous regime, his administrative decisions as foreign minister, his take on the revolution and his plans for the future.
The argument that Moussa tried to put forward was at times very straight-forward: state security should be reformed and not demolished; peace with Israel should be maintained but on equal basis, relations with the US as a leading world power should be promoted within a framework of cooperation rather than submission, corruption should be ferociously eliminated, the Muslim Brotherhood should not be excluded "and the choice should be to the people", Copts should not be denied the right for all forms of political participation including that to establish a political party "but the emphasis should be on the integration of Muslim and Copts in shared bodies rather than on their separation" and women and the younger generation should be empowered to play a more influential role in the future of Egypt.
At times, however, Moussa hesitated, became angry and impatient. "When I said I would vote for Mubarak as president (in a TV interview a few months ago) I was suggesting that if the choice, as it ultimately was, was between Mubarak and his son Gamal, then I would choose the former," he said while answering many questions on the matter.
"Liar," shouted a young man who was watching Moussa’s talk and the subsequent question and answer session from a monitor outside the hall.
Moussa was also criticized for his inconclusive – some even suggested "elusive" – answers to questions on the current situation in Libya, his performance in the Arab League and his call for the demonstrators in Tahrir Square to accept a deal to end demonstrations in return for a political package that would eventually, but not immediately, lead to the exit of Mubarak.
"But he is the best of choices, which are all bad, for president," mumbled a veiled young woman as she left the venue two hours into the event.
"You are essentially a good man and I came to tell you that I support you and I know that you have a hard mission ahead of you," Ahmed, a civil servant, told Moussa.
Ahmed's view may not be that of the minority, but it is certainly not the majority – especially among those present on Tuesday evening.