CAIRO — 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 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, online search engines turned up infrequent mentions of Moussa, save the references to 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, 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 told 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. "People must vote, in order to protect Egypt from those targeting its national security," Moussa said.
We don't like publicity and creating a scene.
The campaign's official spokesperson, Adel Esmat, 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."
According to the campaign official: "We have played our role well in the elections, and Moussa has asked us to remain calm and practice restraint and balance."
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 conference because we thought it more fitting to release a statement and hold a press conference."
In a Ghad Party press conference on Wednesday ahead of the period of the pre-election silence, which began on Saturday and will last until the end of the voting process later this week, Moussa said: "Thank you, 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 parliament members who endorsed him to run, because that could threaten their positions within their pro-Sisi constituencies. "Their endorsement was given privately," he said.
Over the last two months, the campaign has seemingly reneged on all its decisions, starting with its pledge to hold a public conference with Moussa every week for one month in a different Egyptian region, 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 conferences, timing was tight and traveling to several governorates was not feasible.
The debate will not add anything.
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."
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.
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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