Until 2001, Moussa was a popular foreign minister under former president Hosni Mubarak; he then spent a decade as head of the Arab League. Those positions earned him international stature and a reputation as a statesman, but they have also inextricably linked him to the old guard in an Egypt looking for something new.
Still, it is Moussa who has emerged as a front-runner in the jockeying for Mubarak’s old post, even after a bloody year of upheaval across the region.
Although the military council running the country has yet to set an election date, Moussa’s presidential campaign could become an inflection point in Egypt’s unfinished revolution. His victory would show that Egyptians prefer some measure of continuity over radical change in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Moussa is in many ways the opposite of the new blood that youthful revolutionaries demanded last winter. The 18-day uprising that forced aside an autocrat was fueled by anger over corruption and the lack of opportunity in an impoverished country ruled by a small circle of wealthy elites — a circle that included Moussa. His critics call him an opportunist and accuse him of using name recognition to hijack the revolution.
Some activists refer to him as “Moussabarak” because of his close relationship with the ousted ruler. But many Egyptians long for the stability they say he would bring to the country’s top job.
“Amr Moussa could fill that space quite nicely,” said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Nearly everyone else among Mubarak’s old guard has become too politically radioactive and dogged by allegations of corruption to win broad appeal. At the same time, most of the secular movements born from the revolution have yet to win much of a foothold. And while Islamist candidates have fared the best in the early stages of parliamentary voting that began this month, many experts believe Egyptians may be looking for someone else when it comes to choosing a single leader.
In surveys conducted since Mubarak’s ouster in February, Moussa has consistently ranked highest among potential presidential candidates, suggesting that Egyptians regard him as a steady hand able to guide the country through its political and economic turmoil.
Walking a cautious line
Moussa has not apologized for his service under Mubarak and his predecessors, in a career that dates to 1958 and included postings at the United Nations. He insists that he wasn’t afraid to disagree with Mubarak as foreign minister from 1991 to 2001, and that he did so regularly.