In a historic first, Egypt's two leading presidential candidates faced off in a nationally televised debate, seeking to profile themselves as the best choice. Each candidate took swipes at the other's political past.
Egypt held the first televised presidential debate in the history of the Middle East on Thursday, with the leading liberal and moderate Islamist candidates trading barbs over their respective associations to the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The four-hour-long debate, broadcast on the private Egyptian channels ONTV and Dream TV, explored a range of topics from the role of Islam and the military in politics to bread and butter issues such as the economy, health care and education.
Although there are 13 candidates running for the presidency, the debate pitted Mubarak-era foreign minister Amr Moussa against the moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. Moussa also served as the secretary-general of the Arab League while Abolfotoh, a practicing physician, is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Moussa has billed himself as the candidate capable of restoring order to the post-revolutionary chaos. A secular liberal, he has also tried to appeal to Egyptians who fear the rising power of Islamists.
"My point of reference is the nation, your point of reference is the Brotherhood," the 76-year-old Moussa told his rival on stage.
Abolfotoh has portrayed himself as the candidate of the revolution, accusing Moussa of being too close to the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The moderate Islamist has managed to build a coalition of secular liberals, youth estranged from the Brotherhood as well as some followers of the hard-line Salafist movement.
"I want to hear one word of opposition you said under Mubarak's regime," 60-year-old Abolfotoh said, pointing out that Moussa supported another term for Mubarak as late as 2010.
With the presidential election set for May 23-24, Egyptians gathered around televisions in Cairo cafes to watch the debate.
"This is the first time in Egyptian and Arab history," Ahmed Talaat, a 36-year-old accountant, told the Associated Press. "We really are changing. The uprising is bearing fruit."
If no clear winner emerges from the May poll, a runoff is to be held from June 16-17. The governing Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) has promised to turn over power to an elected civilian government by then and end the volatile post-Mubarak transition.
Among the 13 competitors for the presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammad Mursi and Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, are also seen as frontrunners.
slk/pfd (AP, AFP, dpa)