Popular Arab league boss aims to be Egypt's leader

Amr Mussa seen as a dynamic Egyptian politician


Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who said on Sunday he plans to run for president in Egypt after a popular uprising that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, is a dynamic former foreign minister.

He had already hinted on February 4 that he might contest the country's top job, a week before Mubarak stepped down in the face of overwhelming popular opposition in the Arab world's most populous country.

"Why say no?" he responded at the time when asked if he would stand in Egypt's next presidential elections.

On Sunday, he confirmed he would be a candidate after the expiry of his second term as head of the 22-member league.

"I intend to run in the next presidential election, and an (official) announcement will be made at the right time," he told reporters.

Mussa, 74, is a dynamic figure with a quick sense of humour and charisma that often eclipsed that of his former boss Mubarak. His popularity stems from his strong stands against Israel and language that appeals to the Arab street.

Days after the popular uprising in Tunisia, Mussa warned during an Arab summit in Egypt of the "unprecedented anger" across the region, sealing his legacy as an Arab public figure in touch with the people.

"The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession... The political problems, the majority of which have not been fixed... have driven the Arab citizen to a state of unprecedented anger and frustration," he told Arab leaders who had remained mostly silent on events in Tunisia.

European and Arab diplomats believe Mussa to be a candidate who could appeal to both the people of Egypt and to international figures.

"There is an avenue for Amr Mussa. He is compatible with the current establishment. He was part of the system before being sidelined," a senior European diplomat told AFP earlier this month.

Always impeccably dressed, Mussa excelled as Egypt's foreign minister for a decade between 1991 and 2001.

But his popularity at the time reportedly drew the ire of Mubarak, who eventually sidelined him into the less influential position of head of the Arab League -- a body often criticised for its lack of clout.

In a much-recalled sign of his status at home, Mussa made a triumphant entry to Cairo football stadium in 2006 where he was loudly applauded by some 100,000 Egyptian fans at the final of the African Nations Cup.

"If he were to run for president one day, in a free vote, he would be a sure-fire winner," said one diplomat in Cairo where the Arab League is based.

The constitution under Mubarak rule stipulated that a presidential candidate would have to be nominated by a party that has been in existence for five years.

As an independent, Mussa would have had to secure the backing of 250 elected officials including from the lower and upper houses of parliament and from municipal councils -- all dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

But on resignation, Mubarak handed power to a military council that vowed to pave the way for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.

And on Sunday, a member of a panel overseeing constitutional amendments said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is to call for a popular referendum on constitutional changes by the end of March.

There is an avenue for Amr Mussa. He is compatible with the current establishment. He was part of the system before being sidelined

A senior European diplomat