Egyptian presidential debate underscores Islamist vs. establishment divide (+video)
Egypt's first ever presidential debate pitted stability against revolutionary fervor. Elections are scheduled for later this month.
Egypt’s top two presidential candidates faced off last night in the first presidential debate in the nation’s history, giving Egyptians a chance to watch a contest that would have been unthinkable under former president Hosni Mubarak.
The candidates – Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister for Mubarak turned Arab League chief, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader – each sought to use the other’s background as a point of attack, underscoring a main fault line in the race: Islamists versus figures from Mubarak’s regime.
Some Egyptians saw the debate as another step on Egypt’s path toward democracy after ousting Mubarak in a national uprising last year. “It was a beautiful thing,” Muharram Fouad, a Cairo taxi driver, says of the debate. “Mubarak never debated anyone. Now we have democracy, and freedom.”
During Mubarak’s nearly three-decade rule, referendums were held in which his was the only name on the ballot. In 2005, he allowed a multi-candidate election for the first time, but it was seen as fraudulent. Egyptians will vote for the first president to succeed him on May 23 and 24, with a runoff vote in June if no candidate wins an outright majority.
Last night Egyptians gathered around televisions at home and in cafes to watch the four-hour debate, which was presented with much fanfare by the two private satellite channels that hosted it. The abundance of lengthy advertising spots indicated that the channels expected a large audience. Dramatic music played as the debate began, and moderators emphasized the historic nature of the event. In the hour-long run-up, hosts explained that the format was based on US presidential debates, and broadcast part of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate.