Egypt to air first televised presidential debate

Self-proclaimed liberal nationalist Moussa and independent Islamist Aboul Fotouh, seen as top front-runners, to face off.

Amr Moussa at World Economic Forum 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amr Moussa at World Economic Forum 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptians will see the first ever televised presidential debate between candidates vying for Egypt's top seat on Thursday, AFP reported, as the country gears up for elections on May 23 and 24.
Candidates Amr Moussa, who was a foreign minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak and the Arab League chief until last year, and independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh will face off in a debate that will be aired on two private Egyptian television channels, AFP said.
The debate will begin with the candidates detailing their views on the country's new constitution, which has not yet been written, and powers of the presidential office. The second half will be devoted to electoral platforms, the judiciary, security and other issues, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm's English language website.
The candidates will be allotted two minutes to answer the questions, after which they can address each other's answers. At the end of the first and second halves, the candidates may also their opponent a question, according to the independent Egyptian newspaper.
The debate is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. local time.
According to a poll conducted by Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper and published last Monday, Moussa and Fotouh are leading the race at 39 percent and 24%, respectively.
Another poll, published in Al-Masry Al-Youm found that Aboul Fotouh was leading at 9%, while Moussa stood at 7% behind former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq. According to that survey, some 39% of respondents were still undecided.
The debate between Moussa and Aboul Fotouh pits a self-proclaimed liberal nationalist against a former Muslim Brotherhood activist. While Moussa served under Mubarak, Aboul Fotouh spent time in jail when the former president's government made sweeping arrests of Islamist activists in the early 90s.
Moussa has tried to position himself standing between the old regime and the post-revolution order, an experienced statesman that often went at odds with his former boss Mubarak. Moussa has been spared the negative connotations associated with the ousted president's regime due in large part to the widespread belief that Mubarak was strongly jealous of Moussa's popularity, which largely stemmed from his criticisms of the United States and Israel during his tenure as foreign minister.
Some analysts believe Mubarak appointed Moussa to head the Arab League in order to lessen his public exposure.
Islamists, meanwhile, paint Moussa as a cigar-smoking bon vivant whose wealth renders him out of touch with the people.
The 60-year-old Aboul Fotouh's popularity jumped when the Alexandria-based hardline Salafist Al-Nour party and other influential Islamist groups threw their support behind the man who defied the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011 when he announced he would run for president.
Many Islamists see Aboul Fotouh as the appropriate alternative to the the Brotherhood's candidate, fearing the parliament-dominating Brotherhood would wield to much power were its candidate to triumph.
Critics of Aboul Fotouh wonder how someone who claims to represent those seeking a liberal form of Islam within the new government is at the same time attracting Egypt's most conservative factions.
Reuters contributed to this report.