Cairo sees an unusual debate for presidency

Cairo sees an unusual debate for presidency

Cairo sees an unusual debate for presidency

Presidential candidate and ex-Arab League Secretary General Moussa shaking hands with moderate Islamist fellow candidate, Abul Fotouh, during a live debate. AFP Photo

Two election front-runners, a former foreign minister and a moderate Islamist, have squared off in the Arab world’s first ever presidential debate, trading barbs over the role of religion and how to bring democratic reform to Egypt.

Egyptians crowded around television sets in outdoor cafes for the four-hour debate, aired on May 10 evening on several independent TV channels. The debate, which ran well past midnight, pitted Amr Moussa, who served as Mubarak’s foreign minister for 10 years until becoming head of the Arab League in 2001, against Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamist who broke with the Muslim Brotherhood last year. The two are among 13 candidates competing in the election, due to begin on May 23.

During the debate Abolfotoh sought to taint Moussa as a key member and supporter of Mubarak’s regime.

Moussa, in turn, painted Abolfotoh as beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamists. “My point of reference is the nation, your point of reference is the Brotherhood,” the 76-year-old Moussa, who has sought to appeal to Egyptians worried about the rising power of Islamists, told his rival.

He pushed Abolfotoh to explain his stance on implementing Islamic Shariah law, suggesting that he had “made commitments” to hard-line Islamists. “I want to hear one word of opposition you said under Mubarak’s regime,” Abolfotoh, 60, shot back, pointing out that Moussa said in 2010 that he would back Mubarak for another term as president. Moussa presented himself as the voice of experience that can bring security to a country rocked by turmoil since Mubarak’s fall.

Abolfotoh depicted himself as the candidate of the revolution kicking off the debate with praise for the “martyrs” killed by security forces and troops in protests against Mubarak. Meanwhile, Egypt’s presidential election, set to be the freest it has ever had, began for citizens abroad on May 11.

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