Amr Moussa's campaign 'in good spirits' one week before the big day

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Thursday 17 May 2012

Moussa and his campaign members are racing through their events calendar, all with an air of self-assured confidence ahead of polling day

Moussa among supporters: Raise your head up, you are the president. (Photo: Reuters)

The clock is ticking louder than ever with only one week to go before the first round of voting in Egypt's much-awaited post-revolution presidential elections. Amid the countdown it's a little more business than the usual at the headquarters of Amr Moussa, one of the most prominent candidates and once Mubarak's foreign minister for 10 years. In the upscale district of Mohandeseen everyone in the three-floored  villa seem to be on their toes.

"I feel the time running, but I'm excited and can't wait for elections day. We're all in good spirits" said Nabila Morgan, the desk coordinator, who has been working with the campaign for over a year.

Ahram Online conducted an interview with Moussa at 12 noon, soon to be published. Moussa's campaign office is but a small room. On his desk lies a pile of the day's newspapers among many other documents and a miniature Egyptian flag. In one corner there is a two-level shelf with books on the lower level and an assortment of Moussa's merit awards and a number of newspaper caricatures on the other. Moussa sat through the one-hour interview on a chair by the balcony, sipping Turkish coffee and talking about his take on the country's politics and economy, as well as a brief memoir of the Madrid Conference and Oslo Accords.

By 1:30pm, the outside hall was getting packed, mostly with members of the media. Wednesday's schedule included many one-on-one interviews, as a publicity ban will be enforced Monday, according to the rules of the Supreme Presidential Elections Commission.

Moussa came out of his office, shook hands with people in the hall one by one, and went to speak to two men, throwing both his hands around their shoulders as he approached them amiably.

"I think all the roads lead to him, it's obvious by now" murmured a media executive as Moussa came to stand in front of him as he spoke with the two men.

"We're just going ahead with our calendar. Media interviews, propagating the [electoral] programme, and holding rallies. We have two governorate visits to Alexandria and Beheira on our calendar, along with a few other rallies here in Cairo. There's some lobbying going on as well, that part Mr Amr does himself, discussing the programme with NGO members and his own advisors," said Lamia Kamel, head of the PR sector of the campaign, hurrying between rooms and interrupted by some people as television channel Al-Hayat was setting up the reception room to record an interview with Moussa.

The second floor of Moussa's campaign headquarters holds the offices of the online campaign. These offices had younger personnel than those on the first floor. On the walls of the two offices are sprayed several graffiti sketches of Amr Moussa's face.

"We've made television appearances on a wide variety of channels by now. We even received a request from [Salafist-run] El-Nas channel for an interview and recorded with them last week. The interviewer was Sheikh Khaled El-Guindi. The off-camera atmosphere was very friendly. He (El-Guindi) joked with us saying, 'I'm not a sheikh; I'm originally a civil engineer and I'm also a night owl, bringing me to work on an afternoon means you'll have to bear with my decreased concentration,'" said Ahmed Kamel, Moussa's media coordinator, who is in his late 20s.

Salafist parties Al-Nour and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development Party have announced their official support for  renegade ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. Moussa, who has himself received the endorsement of Al-Wafd Party, is considered too liberal for the Salafists' liking. Moussa has also been increasingly vocal in his critique of the political performance of Islamists in the transitional phase.

During the peak of the 25 January uprising, Moussa, who served as foreign minister from 1991 to 2001 in Mubarak's government, was among the few names that came to the minds of many Egyptians as a possible elected successor to Mubarak as the regime began crumbling.

However, in recent months, a swelling wave of grassroots counter-propaganda emerged aimed at deterring people from voting for feloul — ex-regime remnants who are contesting the presidency. Moussa's name is included in this list.

Moussa was the first to announce his intention to run for the presidency, only a few days after Mubarak stepped down last February.

"Amr Moussa went to Tahrir in the very early days [of the uprising]. He later appeared with ElBaradei and other revolution figures in the video that called on people to vote No in the constitution amendments referendum. It was only when other people started emerging as presidential candidates and had to compete with him that we started seeing him being classified as feloul," said Ahmed Kamel.

"His stances during violent clashes are not 'revolutionary' enough only for people who were calling for an escalation. But an escalation means more lives will be lost. We did announce our stance against forcible dispersal of protests and sit-ins, but a charged statement would mean to call for further violence," Kamel added, in an irritated tone.

The conversation inevitably veered towards the widely viewed televised presidential debate last Thursday in which Moussa was up against Aboul-Fotouh, Moussa's closest opponent, according to polls.

Of course Ahmed Kamel believes Moussa swept away Aboul-Fotouh, but the question had to be asked about what went through his mind when he heard Moussa, the longtime worldly diplomat and former secretary general of the Arab League, make the thunderously satirised "Iran is an Arab country" blunder when he was answering a question about his views on Egypt's relationship with the country.

"I knew people would scrutinise us for it, but come on: it was just a slip of the tongue. Even Hazem Abu-Ismail agrees! That was what Sheikh Khaled told me when we were doing the interview with El-Nas," Kamel answered as he laughed through the part about Abu-Ismail.

Moussa has lately announced that if he loses he will not withdraw from political life. Kamel said that the role of campaign personnel in that case has not yet been discussed.

By 3pm, media representatives had swarmed the first floor of the building. The small-ish conference hall was being set up for a news conference due to start at 4pm. News websites had said that one candidate would announce his withdrawal from the race to Moussa.

"It's a low-key candidate, nothing major," Lamia Kamel answered. The unidentified candidate turned out to be Mohamed Fawzi Eissa. Some joked on social media sites about how Moussa had been saved by gaining five extra votes now that Eissa had withdrawn.

Back in the room adjacent to the conference hall, Moussa's PR people, unfazed by the surrounding commotion, went on with their work.

"Beheira is definitely with us. But Kafr El-Sheikh, no," said one to another, a paper hanging overhead on the wall with large and bold Arabic characters, "8 Days Left."

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