BENI SUEF, Egypt — Amr Moussa stood on a rickety stage, battling the summer heat and feedback from a defective microphone, promising the Egyptian people the world. "We're making a Second Republic, a renaissance for Egypt," he told the audience of several hundred. "It is the time to rebuild the country, to fight poverty and unemployment, which has resulted from mismanagement."
He went on in that vein, ticking off the boxes of socioeconomic development: health care, education, wages. Children played with posters featuring the visage of the former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general and a simple message: "Create jobs."
It was the spectacle, not the speech, that counted. Moussa's campaign bus had been joined by a convoy of honking cars as it entered the town; a makeshift band played on the back of one pickup truck. Moussa's first stop was to the town's mosques, where he prayed briefly among the crush of locals trying to get close to him. Outside one mosque, the crowd thronged around the door in anticipation of his exit, cheering expectantly. A man from the town exited before Moussa and waved to the masses. "Thank you, thank you," he joked. "Yes, I am the prime minister."
It was just one stop in a frenetic campaign that has taken Moussa to seemingly every village and hamlet in Egypt. The night before, Moussa had taken part in Egypt's first-ever presidential debate, which concluded after 2 a.m. His campaign bus left Cairo at 9 a.m., and he was still shaking hands and kissing babies 12 hours later. "He's like the Energizer Bunny," said Ahmed Kamel, his exhausted media advisor, at the end of the day.
Beni Suef, a predominantly rural governorate of approximately 2.6 million people south of Cairo, appeared at first glance to be a strange place for Moussa to stump for votes. It is the home of Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and has by and large stood behind his political vision. In Egypt's most recent parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood's political wing won a majority of the votes in the governorate, followed closely by the Salafi al-Nour Party.
But there was Moussa -- an emphatically non-Islamist candidate and a consummate establishment man in a country supposedly in revolution -- barnstorming across the governorate. And it is working: Moussa remains the front-runner in the presidential race set to kick off on May 23. A recent poll released by the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-linked think tank, placed him at the top of the heap, garnering the support of 31.7 percent of voters, while a Brookings Institution poll had him a close second behind Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. If none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will move to a runoff between the top two vote-getters on June 16 and 17, where Moussa would likely be in the strongest position to forge a winning coalition.
But what does Moussa's success say about the state of Egypt's politics? The word "revolution" has been thrown about for the past 16 months to describe the upheaval in the country; a victory by the 75-year-old veteran of internecine battles within Hosni Mubarak's regime and the old Arab order suggests something closer to a course correction. Moussa, for better or worse, is not the culmination of anything approaching a revolution.
Many Egyptians recognize this, and resent it. Dissenters trail the crowds of cheering supporters at Moussa's every campaign stop. His earnest speech in Beni Suef was interrupted when a youth of no more than 20 burst into the tent to denounce him as felool -- a derogatory term for "remnants" of the old regime.