Top two contenders participate in Egypt´s first presidential debate (WASHINGTON POST) By Leila Fadel CAIRO, EGYPT 05/11/12)
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CAIRO — The two top-rated Egyptian presidential candidates battled
Thursday over the role of Islam and policy toward Israel in the Arab
world’s most populous country as they took part in the first
televised presidential debate in the nation’s history.
In homes and cafes, Egyptians sat transfixed by a debate that
stretched past 2 a.m. It featured Amr Moussa, the 75-year-old former
chief of the Arab League, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, 60,
considered a moderate Islamist. After decades of autocratic rule,
Egyptians will finally have a choice in the presidential election
scheduled for May 23 and 24.
The differences between the contenders quickly emerged. Moussa, who
served as foreign minister in the 1990s under Hosni Mubarak, the
president ousted in the January revolution, appealed to Egyptians who
long for stability after more than a year of economic and political
tumult and fear the rise of Islamists. Aboul Fotouh sought to reach
out to Islamists, liberals and supporters of the revolution.
In a dramatic move, Aboul Fotouh called Israel an “enemy” of Egypt
and promised to revise the peace treaty with the neighboring state,
which has been a linchpin of Middle East peace. The words will
probably resonate with many Egyptians angry at Israeli policies
towards Palestinians but are sure to worry U.S. officials.
“Israel is an enemy, built on occupation. It owns 200 nuclear
warheads and doesn’t respect international decisions,” Aboul Fotouh
said. “The agreement with Israel should be revised, and that which is
against Egypt’s interests should be removed immediately and what is
in our interest should stay.”
Moussa said the treaty should be slightly revised but stopped short
of calling Israel an enemy.
“We have lots of disagreements. Most of our people consider it an
enemy, but the responsibility of the president is to deal with such
things responsibly and not run after hot-headed slogans,” he said.
Aboul Fotouh tried to tie Moussa to the brutal and unpopular Mubarak
government, asking how, “as a member of the past regime that people
revolted against, can he become part of the solution?”
Moussa denied the allegations. “The regime fell with its men, and I
wasn’t part of it. I was a minister 10 years ago,” he said. Moussa
left his foreign ministry post in 2001.
Moussa accused Aboul Fotouh of being loyal to the traditional Muslim
Brotherhood rather than to the nation. “You defended the Muslim
Brotherhood and not Egyptians,” he said.
To run for president, Aboul Fotouh severed ties with the Brotherhood,
which had initially said it would not put forward a candidate. The
Brotherhood eventually reversed course, settling on Mohammed Morsi to
seek the job. News reports said Morsi refused to participate in the
debate, but his campaign said he was not invited to join in.
The Brotherhood has come under intense criticism lately for
dominating parliament and looking out for its own interests. Moussa
also accused his rival and the Brotherhood of being part of militant
Islamist attacks in the 1990s. Aboul Fotouh confirmed that he was a
founder of what he described as a peaceful Gamaa Islamiya movement
but said he was not responsible for those who split off and committed
On religion, Moussa presented himself as someone who would respect
Islamic law but not allow discrimination against minorities or an
expansion of Islamic jurisprudence. Aboul Fotouh portrayed himself as
a unifier who would apply Islamic law fairly but also limit it to the
role that has been spelled out in the constitution for years — as the
principle source of legislation.
Moussa dismissed Aboul Fotouh’s claims that he could serve as a
bridge between polarized parts of society, saying that the Islamist
used “double language. He is Salafist with Salafists [followers of a
puritanical form of Islam] and is a liberal with liberals.”
Special correspondent Haitham Mohamed contributed to this report. (©
2010 The Washington Post Company 05/11/12)
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