The Arab World’s First Presidential Debate

by Noah Glyn

Last night, two Egyptian politicians, Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, sparred over the issues in the first-ever presidential debate in the Arab world. What was their one area of agreement? Opposition to Israel, of course. The two candidates agreed that Egypt’s 1979 treaty with Israel should be reviewed, and Abol Fotouh called Israel an “enemy,” while Moussa only termed Israel an “adversary.”

In addition to Israel, the two candidates spoke about taxation, police reform, education, health care, and the military. Both agreed that, in a democracy, the military should never be above the law. Moussa characterized himself as the statesman who will lead Egypt out of these difficult times, while Abol Fotouh promised to unite the disparate factions in Egypt.

Amr Moussa is a former foreign minister to Hosni Mubarak and former secretary general of the League of Arab States. His hostility to Israel and the United States actually led Mubarak to remove him from his post as foreign minister.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a former head of the Muslim Brotherhood. His candidacy seemed to be gaining popularity among young voters and Islamists, but the Muslim Brotherhood’s announcement that it would run its own candidate, Khairat el-Shater, despite promises to the contrary, has eaten away at his support. Shater is a millionaire financier of the Muslim Brotherhood who was in an Egyptian jail just a year ago.

But several weeks ago, the Egyptian High Election Commission abruptly ended Shater’s candidacy, along with nine other would-be candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood responded by nominating Mohamed Morsi. A devout Muslim and a former spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi has argued for increased emphasis on sharia law in Egypt. Morsi was not invited to the debate.

Egyptians go to the polls on May 23 and 24, but there is expected to be a runoff on June 16 and 17.