Over the course of the past two months since Ghad Party head Moussa Mostafa Moussa decided to run for president, the party and its relatively unknown candidate seemed to have found themselves suddenly wading into uncharted waters.
Before he submitted his papers to the National Elections Authority on January 29, only minutes ahead of the deadline, search engines turned up infrequent mentions of Moussa, with most of the news concerning his support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s candidacy for a second presidential term.
Most search results confirm that the Ghad Party head was a supporter of the man he is now in competition with. In the press conference announcing his candidacy, Moussa claimed he thought seriously about running in the election but decided to withhold after former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, lawyer Khaled Ali, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan and former member of Parliament Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat announced their bids. However, Moussa stated that after the other candidates, some of whom were arrested and some of whom withdrew, fell out of the presidential race, he felt compelled to run for president, “because the right chance to run had presented itself.”
While there is an abundance of publicity material supporting Sisi’s campaign across Egypt’s cities, put up by members of Parliament, businessmen and shop owners, Moussa’s posters have made a humble appearance. Even at his campaign headquarters on Sabry Abu Alam Street in downtown Cairo, Moussa’s coverage appears modest beside the Tahya Masr slogans and prominent poster supporting Sisi’s candidacy.
The Ghad Party emerged more prominently in Egyptian politics after a split in 2011, when its Political Parties Affairs Committee recognized Moussa as its president following a major dispute with Ayman Nour, who founded the party in 2005 and now heads the splinter Ghad al-Thawra Party.
It currently occupies three residential apartments on the second floor of the downtown Cairo building, and since Moussa’s candidacy was announced, there have been two police personnel stationed by the entrance to safeguard the party and its presidential candidate.
Moussa has also been assigned a personal bodyguard who, when not accompanying him, stands with the police at the entrance of the party headquarters to search those who come in with a metal detector.
While the Ghad Party has continued to deny suggestions Moussa’s candidacy is little more than an attempt to give the election the veneer of competition, in the days before polls open the presidential candidate tells Mada Masr that his decision to run has “successfully ensured that the presidential election is a free, democratic electoral system.” He said that the election has not become a referendum, which would have lead to a host of problems, adding, “People must vote, in order to protect Egypt from those targeting its national security.”
Adel Esmat, the campaign’s official spokesperson, said in early February that the party decided to shift from supporting Sisi to competing with him in an attempt to remedy the one-candidate crisis and to support “the national landscape of elections, as well as support democracy, pluralism, and to vitalize the coming presidential elections and increase its efficacy.”
A prominent figure in Moussa’s campaign, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, refutes assertions that the party’s decision to take part in the election was an attempt to avoid a referendum. “This is not true, and if it is said about us, it is an honor and not an allegation,” the campaign member says. “If the Egyptian people see us as having saved the elections from turning into a referendum and from attempts to harm Egypt, then it is the pledge of the Ghad Party and its president to stand with Egypt in difficult times to protect it. We don’t like publicity and creating a scene. Our only goal is our country, and we do all of it without gain.”
“We have played our role well in the elections, and Moussa has asked us to remain calm and practice restraint and balance,” the campaign figure says.
Mahmoud Moussa, the party’s vice president — who is of no relation to the candidate — says: “To say that we were dragged into the election is biased. No one is dragged into a presidential election. The election has rejuvenated the party. We have not held a public rally because we thought it more fitting to release a statement and hold a press conference.”
In a Ghad Party press conference on Wednesday, held ahead of the period of the pre-election silence, which began on Saturday and will last until the end of the voting process, Moussa thanked “President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,” describing the party’s decision to run as courageous and dignified.
Questions and uncertainties have plagued the campaign since it was launched in January. After his papers were filed, Moussa had no reservations about telling the press that he would not announce the names of the 26 MPs who endorsed him to run, because that could threaten their positions within their pro-Sisi constituencies. “their endorsement was given privately,” he said.
Samir Abdel Azim, the party’s legal adviser, subsequently said they had reached out to journalist Samir Ragab to be an official spokesperson for the campaign. Moussa denied Azim’s assertion, and the Ghad Party similarly rejected the legal adviser’s claim that Moussa had graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris, clarifying that he had graduated from a university in Versailles.
Over the last two months, the campaign has seemingly reneged on all its decisions, starting with its pledge to hold a public rally with Moussa every week for one month in a different governorate, culminating in a final conference in a Cairo stadium before a crowd of tens of thousands.
However, Moussa told the privately owned Shorouk newspaper that while there had been suggestions from within the campaign to hold four public rallies, timing was tight and traveling to several governorates was not feasible. He said that they would hold one public conference instead, before the start of the period of pre-election silence, with people from across the governorates in attendance.
This changed again when the presidential candidate announced in mid-March that he would hold a sizable final press conference at a hotel. By the day of the event on March 21, however, this had dwindled into a press conference held in a small hall at the party headquarters. The room was overcrowded as journalists with their cameras, foreign media outlets, dozens of members of Bedouin tribes and party members crammed into the small space.
The member of Moussa’s campaign accounts for the repeated changes by citing concerns about crowd control. “The behavior of Egyptians has changed and we cannot control what will happen,” he says.
Moussa’s campaign also seemed to fall short of its initial goals when a human chain and march in downtown Cairo, stopping on the October 6 bridge, which was scheduled for the end of February, took no more than 45 minutes and saw 25 people participate.
A similar thing happened a few weeks later when 30 people turned up in front of the campaign headquarters for a march which was held on March 10.
At the start of his campaign, Moussa declared that he was ready for a debate with Sisi. However, he went back on his words a few days before the campaign period ended, saying: “The debate will not add anything. I have no role in it, and it is inconsequential.”
There have also been inconsistencies in what is reported about the funding for Moussa’s presidential campaign. The candidate and other prominent members of the campaign tell Mada Masr that the funding was provided by Moussa and his brother, Ali Mostafa Moussa. The presidential hopeful said during his campaign’s final press conference: “I thank my brother who gave his time and money in the pursuit of consolidating true democracy.”
The campaign also turned to prominent figures from a number of different governorates as potential sources of funding, on seven conditions. Potential supporters must be “a supporter of Moussa, a well-known public and social figure, financially capable, of sound reputation, have previous electoral experience, have a significant organizational capacity, be able to create the organizational structure for his governorate and to have the ability to put forth a communications plan for his/her governorate.”
“I am not directly following the numbers of campaign spending, but we have not gone over even half the legal spending limit,” Moussa says. “We have not reached LE9 million yet.” The legal spending limit is LE20 million. He says that he does not have a lot of money for publicity and has tried to source it through his immediate family, particularly his brother.
In a March statement Moussa asserted that his campaign’s spending is not on par with that of the other candidate, whose supporters have paid for his publicity.
According to a prominent figure at the executive and consulting office of Moussa’s campaign, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, the party’s spending is currently between LE5 and LE10 million. Only around LE5 million of this has been used for posters and campaign brochures, as 15 million copies were printed and paid for by Moussa and his brother, which he believes is a reasonable figure for one candidate.
Despite the modest figures cited by Moussa and his campaign members, the Ghad Party’s legal adviser announced in early February that publicity had reached an initial LE15 million and could increase further.
Esmat, the campaign’s official spokesperson, appeared to be the weakest link during the campaign period. His statements were replete with grammatical and linguistic errors and ambiguity, and his comments on Moussa’s vision for the renewal of religious discourse contained four errors in Quranic verses.
In one of his statements, Esmat coined the phrase “the legitimate violence of the state,” and said that democracy is not only the rule of the majority but the protection of the rights of minorities and the individual. He asked: “Can there be democracy without values? There is no democracy without democrats. Can there be democracy without giving deference to the state, the law and the legitimate violence that the state has exclusive rights to?” He said he believed that democracy could not be reduced to the ballot box.
On several occasions during the campaign Moussa issued statements directly to the press without Esmat’s knowledge. On March 19, Moussa released a statement referring to those he called enemies of the country, who he said were receiving foreign funding with the aim of inciting people to boycott the elections, stirring up trouble and spreading false information by manufacturing signs that Moussa supports Sisi. In the statement, Moussa threatened to pursue legal action against those he alleged were receiving funds from abroad and take them to trial.
Esmat was not made aware of the statement, and Moussa tells Mada Masr: “the spokesperson releases statements, but when it comes to urgent or important issues I send a statement to the press and don’t wait.”
Moussa, whose campaign has offered up little about his platform so far, aside from disparate information about suggested policies, including a limit on importing foreign films, is originally from the Sharqiya Governorate and currently resides in the Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek.
His sister is married to Hesham Mostafa Khalil, the son of the former prime minister and MP Mostafa Khalil, making Khalil the most widely known members of Moussa’s campaign. However, aside from having his name listed as Moussa’s representative, Mada Masr notes that Khalil did not appear at any of the campaign’s events.