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Candidate in Egypt Makes an Insider’s Run for President (NY) TIMES) By KAREEM FAHIM SHIRBEEN, Egypt 05/13/12) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/world/middleeast/in-egypt-amr-moussa-makes-an-insiders-run-for-president.html?_r=1&ref=world&gwh=5B890512DB09C94DA3B38FBC1B373AAD
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SHIRBEEN, Egypt — At a recent campaign rally here, Ala’a Zinhom said he had no interest in voting for Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister who is campaigning for the job once held by Mr. Moussa’s old boss, President Hosni Mubarak.
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“He’s from the old regime,” said Mr. Zinhom, 22, as Mr. Moussa spoke under lanterns strung across the town square. “His thinking is old. His program doesn’t represent us.”
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Mr. Zinhom’s father, Adel, though, saw Mr. Moussa as a familiar face and a steady hand, a man who could be trusted with Egypt’s foreign alliances, and certainly no remnant.
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“He had his differences with Hosni Mubarak,” the father said.
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As Mr. Moussa runs for president in an election that starts this month, he is trying to turn his greatest liability — a long career in government — into a strength. In a race that seems to have come down to a few leading candidates, including Mr. Moussa and two Islamists, the former foreign minister has positioned himself as the experienced, tolerant choice. He has railed against what he calls the proposed “experiment” in Islamist government, and has portrayed himself as the only candidate who can deliver stability to Egypt.
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“We have to be careful with our choice, and stay away from anarchists and anarchy,” he said here in Shirbeen on Monday. “We can’t allow chaos and destruction to take over the country.”
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As Egyptians approach their first widely contested presidential election, the country, filled with a mix of anxiety and enthusiasm, is struggling to affirm a vision of itself in a field of candidates bearing promises. The candidates face a similar struggle, in reading the mood of a public muffled for years under Mr. Mubarak.
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Parliamentary elections last fall, the first real test of the political mood, handed an overwhelming majority to Islamists, with roughly half the seats going to the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood and 25 percent to the ultraconservative Salafis. Mr. Moussa’s leading opponent is Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader who describes himself as a liberal Islamist and who has received support from both leftists and Salafis. The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is also seen as a contender, along with Ahmed Shafiq, who briefly served as prime minister, and Hamdeen Sabahi, the founder of a Nasserist party.
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Mr. Moussa, 75, has been regarded as a canny observer of the country’s politics, a well-known face of the Mubarak government who nonetheless remained distant from the country’s ruling clique. A former lawyer, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1958, serving as the ambassador to India and the United Nations before becoming foreign minister.
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During his tenure, as anger at the peace treaty with Israel deepened in Egypt, Mr. Moussa gave a voice to the public enmity, forcefully criticizing his Israeli counterparts during several public debates. As Mr. Moussa’s star rose in Egypt — in 2000, he was lauded in a popular song called “I Hate Israel” — Mr. Mubarak sent his foreign minister off in 2001 to head the Arab League, a move widely seen as an attempt to neutralize a potential rival.
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The strategy was effective. At the Arab League, Mr. Moussa sat out the churning domestic politics of Egypt’s last decade, when the foundations of its revolt were laid, as labor actions galvanized workers, protesters unsettled the government and new political groups emerged. After an opposition figure, Ayman Nour, campaigned to unseat Mr. Mubarak in 2005, Mr. Mubarak sent him to jail. Mr. Moussa, who would have been a more formidable contender, stayed out of the fray.
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Several years ago, rumors circulated that Mr. Moussa might run in the planned 2011 presidential election, but he quashed them in an interview that has come back to haunt him, by saying he would support Mr. Mubarak.
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Last week, during an interview on his campaign bus, Mr. Moussa bristled at the suggestion that opposing Mr. Mubarak, at the risk of going to jail, would have been productive. He said he had “held his ground” against Mr. Mubarak when the two served in government together. And he said he had considered running for president in 2005, but concluded a race was “hopeless,” given Mr. Mubarak’s complete domination of politics.
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“All roads were closed,” he said. “I was, in fact, outside of the ruling circles.”
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Mr. Moussa’s record has provided easy fodder for his opponents. During Egypt’s first-ever presidential debate on Thursday, Mr. Aboul Fotouh, the former Brotherhood member, who spent six years in jail for his political opposition, ridiculed Mr. Moussa for his fealty to the former government. “Sweet talking is easy,” Mr. Aboul Fotouh said, saying the least Mr. Moussa could have done was resign.
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“Nobody asked you to fight, or to go to prison, like us,” Mr. Aboul Fotouh said.
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On the campaign trail, Mr. Moussa invokes Egypt’s glorious past, promising a renaissance and a “second republic.” He calls his political philosophy “reformist,” and has promised to serve only one four-year term. In foreign affairs, Mr. Moussa has called for stronger relationships with Europe and Africa, and his platform says he would uphold the peace treaty with Israel “as long as the other party respects it.” At the debate on Thursday, he said he would “revise” the treaty.
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Seizing on fears of rising lawlessness, he has promised to return police officers, many of whom disappeared after the revolution, to the streets and restore order, claiming an advantage over his rivals on this score. “I am not a novice in the affairs of state,” he said.
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Mr. Moussa is also courting Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, and secular Egyptians, using a strategy that mixes a plea for tolerance with fear. He talks frequently about a unified nation of Christians and Muslims, while painting his opponents as religious extremists.
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He calls Mr. Aboul Fotouh “a candidate with an Islamic background, an Islamic plan.”
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“The people will have to choose if they want religious rule,” Mr. Moussa said.
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The oldest candidate in the race, he has won admirers with a punishing campaign schedule that has included hundreds of stops around the country.
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At an event near the Suez Canal last week, he spoke to tribal elders, trying to win the support of extended clans by promising to pay attention to the canal area and Sinai, a region that has long complained of official neglect.
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“We are going to revive old projects that were buried in the past,” he said. “We will not allow the marginalization and neglect of this area. Don’t forget that we are great nation, and we had a great revolution.”
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He added, “We will knock on the doors of industrial nations.”
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Farag Metir, one of the elders, was impressed. “He knows presidents and kings,” he said. “His program will save us.”
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Another man was still on the fence, saying Mr. Moussa was a good candidate, but adding, “We need him to say he will implement Islamic law,” something Mr. Moussa is unlikely to do.
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A few days later, in Egypt’s agricultural heartland, people in the village of El-Tamad el-Hagar in the Nile Delta waited for Mr. Moussa, whose bus was running a few hours late. A man on a dancing horse was part of the welcoming party, along with a group of young people wearing T-shirts with Mr. Moussa’s face on them.
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Mr. Moussa has struggled to attract young Egyptians, many of whom have been drawn to the energy of Mr. Aboul Fotouh’s campaign or to two leftist candidates. People aligned with the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement have protested Mr. Moussa’s candidacy because of his ties to Mr. Mubarak. In El-Tamad el-Hagar, though, some people spoke about a different enemy, faulting the Brotherhood for trying to seize power.
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Taher Yayha Abouzeid, 20, a student, said there was little hope that young people would find their perfect candidate. “There is no candidate of the revolution,” he said. “It is impossible that the Muslim Brotherhood is the party of the revolution.”
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Neither is Mr. Moussa, he said. “I don’t consider him a remnant,” Mr. Abouzeid said. “I have to think logically. He had some good achievements.”
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Dina Saleh Amer contributed reporting from Shirbeen, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 05/13/12)
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