BEIRUT

Analysis

Amr Mussa, popular secular candidate in Egypt vote

Vehicles drive under an advertisement billboard with a portrait of former Arab League General Secretary and presidential candidate Amr Mussa in Cairo on May 13, 2012. (AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI)

CAIRO: Amr Mussa, a veteran foreign minister, former Arab League chief and the presidential election's main secular candidate, vows to lead a multi-confessional Egypt in the face of the rising power of Islamists.

His posters show him alternately smiling in casual attire, or serious and in suit and tie, posing in front of the country's ancient temples or petrochemical facilities.

The indefatigable diplomat has for months been actively campaigning in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, far from the diplomatic corridors where he spent most of his career.

The fall of Hosni Mubarak, with whom he kept uneasy relations, has allowed him to display his presidential ambitions.

On February 4, 2011, just days before Mubarak stepped down, Mussa gave hints of his desire to succeed his former boss.

"I am ready to serve as a citizen, who has the right to stand," he said from the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo that overlooks Tahrir Square where crowds chanted to bring down the regime.

His campaign posters, of minarets and church steeples side by side, sit well with the Christian electorate that represents around 10 percent of the population.

Following the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi fundamentalist movements, who already control parliament, Mussa warns of the risk of turning the country into a "research lab" for followers of political Islam.

Nonetheless, Mussa never fails to emphasize his Muslim identity, praying five times a day, even on his campaign bus.

His post as Mubarak's foreign minister for 10 years -- from 1991 to 2001 -- is a handicap that he counters by implying his relations with the former strongman had been strained.

His popularity "was not comfortable" for Mubarak, he acknowledged in a recent interview with AFP.

Mussa prefers to talk of the following decade when he headed the 22-member Arab League, where some say he was banished in order to keep him away from domestic politics.

His diatribes against Israel only added to his popularity among Egyptians.

He makes no secret of his lack of enthusiasm for the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Camp David accord, which according to him is "in the drawer", although he insists he does not want to jeopardize peace with Israel.

As head of the Arab League, he was one of the few regional leaders to sense the earthquake of the Arab Spring.

In January 2011, days after the fall of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and shortly before the start of Egypt's revolt, he caused a stir by warning "the anger and frustration is unprecedented" among the region's people.

 

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