A diplomat remembers: The memoirs of Amr Moussa

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 16 Sep 2017

The first volume of diplomat and politician Amr Moussa’s memoirs was published in Cairo on Wednesday

amr mousa

It was one of those moments that introduces a new episode in an apparently unending saga that started in the early 1990s when Egyptian diplomat and politician Amr Moussa was appointed as the country’s foreign minister.

Early one Sunday afternoon, news outlets in Cairo were speculating about what one news website had promised would be a scoop: a document put together by some of the country’s most acknowledged public figures on the state of political affairs in Egypt.

The name of former presidential elections frontrunner Moussa was announced as one of the authors of the document. Only an hour later, Moussa, like the other presumed authors, firmly disassociated himself from the document, which then never appeared as had been promised.

However, speculation on social media about the role of this diplomat-politician continued, pointing to the role Moussa had played as head of the committee that drafted the country’s 2014 constitution. He has also been one of Egypt’s most popular foreign ministers and one of the most influential heads of the Arab League.

There is nothing new about speculation about Moussa’s political role. It happened in the 1990s when his popularity prompted speculation that he could become prime minister or even vice president to ousted former president Hosni Mubarak who had been head of the executive for two decades at the time.

Such speculation took place again and again in the following years, though Moussa has kept a low profile over the past four years.

It now risks going into overdrive, particularly regarding Moussa’s role over the past few years, because of the launch of the first part of his memoirs by the Cairo publisher Dar Al-Shorouk on Wednesday.

The 700-page book is published under the elegant Arabic title of Ketabiyah (My Testimony), and it is designed to present Moussa’s views of years of hard work and good faith.

Contrary to the expectations of some, the first volume of Moussa’s memoirs does not start on the eve of the day he exited from the political scene following the ascent of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to power in Egypt. Nor for that matter does it start with the most happening years of Moussa’s political life in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster in the 25 January Revolution.

Instead, the book starts at the beginning of the path of a man who was born in Cairo on 3 October 1936 at the heart of the upper middle class to parents who were committed to one of the country’s most influential political forces in pre-1952 Egypt, the Wafd Party.

Moussa’s first volume of memoirs ends the day he left his office at the Foreign Ministry to move to the Arab League in 2001 only a few months before the shocking events of 9/11 that turned the world upside down and took the Middle East into a new and turbulent period.

Throughout the book, Moussa seems to be asking the reader to read more closely and to anticipate what might be coming next in the making of this man whose appetite for politics seems to have been by his own account second nature.

The first few chapters explain the grooming of Moussa for a life in politics and the formation of his character as an unyielding man who knows how to push limits and carefully but cleverly pursue his goals in a style that also does not prevent him from sheltering from storms when they hit.

As had been expected by those who know the man well, the account he gives in the book of his personal life is perfectly trimmed, but adequately informative, not just about the man himself but also about the life of Egypt’s upper middle classes prior to and after the 1952 Revolution.

Moussa does not indulge much in the details of his life as a diplomat after he joined Egypt’s foreign service in the early 1950s following a short career as a lawyer.

Nor does he reveal a great deal about the interaction he had with his co-workers on his way to the top of the Foreign Ministry or during his decade as the country’s top diplomat, apart from some carefully selected lines about the prominent men he has worked for and with, including former foreign ministers Mohamed Al-Zayyat, Ismail Fahmi and Ibrahim Kamel.

Then there is his account of Hosni Mubarak, and here what he says is determinedly balanced with a clear distinction drawn between Mubarak as an individual and Mubarak as the man who ruled the country for three decades and may have planned the succession of his youngest son to the presidency.

There are comments about Moussa’s colleagues, including Boutros Boutros-Ghali who became UN secretary-general in 1992, Omar Suleiman, head of General Intelligence during two decades of Mubarak’s rule, and Mubarak’s unpopular minister of information Safwat Al-Sherif who is said to have occasioned a great deal of “unease”, as Moussa puts it, from Mubarak himself.

Some insiders have used the word “jealousy” to describe Mubarak’s relationship to his previously well-appreciated foreign minister. And in the chapters he dedicates to his years as foreign minister, Moussa again moves away from anecdotal accounts to share his deeper perspective on how Egypt’s foreign policy was designed and indeed on how the state was ruled at the time.

That said, the book does come with its own fair share of anecdotes, but these for the most part are designed to help the reader think of things that Moussa, an unapologetic diplomat and politician, might allude to but would never really say outright.

The anecdotes also serve to reveal a considerable amount about the path of Egyptian diplomacy after the 1952 Revolution, through the years of the “heavy and shocking defeat of 1967”, the October War in 1973, the peace talks with Israel, and much more in a way that makes its over 700 pages a vital read for researchers into the history of Egyptian diplomacy and Middle Eastern politics.

Throughout the book, written in a highly compact but still easy style, Moussa offers his views on what he has and has not done as a diplomat and foreign minister.

In doing so, he sets the record straight about where he stands on almost everything and everyone from former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Israel to former president Anwar Al-Sadat and Qatar.

He ever so skillfully strips his critics of ammunition for any attack against him, as he says it all and explains it all the way he wants it to be said and seen.

The first volume of the memoirs of Amr Moussa is only available in Arabic for the time being and is available at Al-Shorouk and other leading bookstores around the country.

There is no scheduled date for the second volume, but sources at Al-Shorouk say that work is in progress.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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