It was relayed to me that Amr Moussa would be holding a rather intimate rally in Kafr el-Dawaar – an industrial city of around 250,000 people that lies just outside of Alexandria. This gave me the perfect opportunity to see a secular/folol (delete as appropriate) campaign and hear what his supporters thought of him. From Cairo, the transit requires a two and a half hour train journey, one half hour mini-bus journey and two 15-minute taxi rides. The setting for the rally was most obscure. Through some gates, in a more rural than residential area, was a small, dusty football pitch that had been cleared to make way for the rally. A large tent had been erected and peppered all round were the 500 or so people waiting to see Moussa.
Whether fashioning an Amr Moussa t-shirt, badge or poster, nearly everyone had some form of Moussa campaigning memorabilia on them. I couldn’t help but feel that everyone here had been brought in, to try and fill the relatively small-capacity rally. Everyone was desperate to have their picture taken showing their support, they were telling me to take pictures of anything and everything that was to do with Moussa, one person even demanding I photo two posters on the side of the tent; they were identical.
They were certainly more vociferous in their support, but on reflection it can be understood why:
- Whereas the Fotoh rally I visited earlier had scores of journalists and photographers, here there were only two journalists and one photographer present – including myself – so they wanted to make damned sure they got equal coverage.
- The area I was in is notoriously Salafi (the Salafis, having thrown their weight behind Fotoh, are critical of Moussa and Shafiq). I was told that in the parliamentary elections, 70% of the votes from the area were for the Islamists. A student called Mohammed Samir and a 48 year-old accountant called Mohseen Ilsamat told me how “there would be trouble if [they] declare support of Moussa on these streets”. So I can see why, when they can all meet up, they are so demonstrative in proclaiming their allegiance.
In this haven, the men and women all sing along to an Amr Moussa song that is blaring over the speakers. The mood is fairly pleasant, if somewhat forced, but around 3 hours after the rally started, there was a chilling change in atmosphere. The shouts of joy morphed into shouts of anger. I was approached by an incredibly calm man in a grey thobe who leaned over to me and said “Ikhwan” before pointing back towards the gate we had entered from. I see the security clambering past the growing crowd of people heading towards the gate. Everyone seemed to be gravitating towards the gate. A man charges past me with a large stick in his hand. I follow.
I could see past the crowd and through the gate, where around 20 people were stood, some on cars, shouting and throwing an arm up every now and again. Eventually I realise that they are hurling rocks over the fence and into the crowd of Moussa supporters. I take some photos and try to make my way forward, before being stopped by the large muscular arm of a security man who wouldn’t let me go any further. A brick lands with a thud 5 meters behind him. “Good idea” I think, as I slowly walk back.
Standing at the rear, I try to make some sense of the chaos in front of me. There are people running away from the gate, some towards. I spot a man nonchalantly lighting a cigarette in the mass of people, carefree as can be. Eventually, a dense sub-group of angry people emerges, with a young thin man in tow. It appears they got one. More people surround him and a few punches are thrown, but in their impatience in wanting to exact retribution, he managed to wriggle free. With one sharp tug, he yanked away from their grips, before vaulting a fence and sprinting away across an adjacent field, middle finger up the entire time.
After a further 20 minutes, everyone seems to calm down and return to his or her seat in the tent. I find myself speaking to a lawyer called Mahmoud, but the moment I bring out my notepad, men and children surround me, some peering over my shoulder to see what I am going to write. I am instantly reminded of eating waffles on Brighton pier, seagulls circling overhead. I ask in English “Is everyone here going to vote for Amr Moussa?” There is confusion at first but the moment the word “Moussa” leaves my lips, thumbs go up and a chorus of “Aiwa, Moussa, Aiwa” rings out. (I am tempted to talk gibberish and end it with “Amr Moussa” to see if I would get the same response but quickly suppress the urge).
Mahmoud ushers me away from the crowd and into a room behind a makeshift drinks shop. He tells me, almost in a whisper, that he is supporting Hamdeen Sabahi but that he was intrigued to hear what Moussa had to say. He tells me how he wants Egypt to be become the epicentre for Islam in Africa. Sabahi seems a strange choice if that is what he wants.
“So why not vote for Mohammed Morsi or Abo el-Fotoh instead?” I ask
“The Muslim Brotherhood have been useless in Parliament, why would they be any better if they were president as well? As for Fotoh, I just don’t trust him”
I query his interest in coming to a Moussa rally instead
“Moussa has a lot of experience, he knows a lot of people and is capable of dealing with the military. We need security, it is a big problem right now.”
“Do you not mind how people are calling him a folol?”
“He is not a folol, he left so long ago!” he laughs and smiles briefly, before leaning forward “But Shafiq is, he cannot come to power, not another person from the military. He is a military man and Moussa is an office man who is familiar with the military, surely that is better no? I want to see what he has to say and maybe if I can I may try to ask him some questions”. He offers me an Egyptian cigarette and orders me some tea. “If he is good today, then who knows, I may vote for him”.
Amr Moussa was meant to arrive at the rally at 2pm. He arrived at 11pm. I left some 5 hours previous and cant help but feel he may have cost himself a vote.