CAIRO - Egyptian presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh traded barbs about their past in a debate that captured the historic moment facing a nation preparing for its first real election for head of state.

Viewers tuned in across the Arab world for a spectacle unthinkable before Hosni Mubarak was swept from power by a mass uprising 15 months ago. The election gets under way in two weeks, the climax of an army-led transition to civilian rule.

One a veteran diplomat who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister and the other an Islamist who was jailed by his administration, Abol Fotouh and Moussa have emerged as two of the leading contenders to replace the deposed president.

Facing off for more than four hours in a show broadcast on two privately owned television networks, Moussa and Abol Fotouh sought to trip each other up on questions ranging from their perspective on Islamic sharia law to their views on Israel. They repeatedly accused each other of distorting the facts.

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