By Mai El-Sadany
Egyptian presidential candidates and front-runners Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa participated in a televised presidential debate on May 10 that touched on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy issues. While the debates started off with a tight back-and-forth on a range of substantive topics, by the end of the almost four hour contest, the discussion degenerated into an exchange of angry accusations.
Some of the most important topics discussed by the candidates include the following:
- Article 2 and Sharia: Aboul Fotouh argued that sharia and its principles should be the main source of legislation, as is stated in Article 2 of the current Egyptian constitution. He added that ultimately it would be up to the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court and Al-Azhar, the respected Sunni religious authority, to decide whether laws are in harmony with the principles of sharia. Moussa also recognized that religion is a reference for all Egyptians and stated that he would embrace the general principles of sharia.
- Minimum Wage, Health Care, and Social Issues: Moussa called for a minimum wage that meets the basic needs of an Egyptian individual without mentioning a specific figure and stressed the need for a maximum wage as well. Aboul Fotouh called for a minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds per month and a maximum wage only in the public sector. Moussa stated that every family should have a state-guaranteed pension. Aboul Fotouh also called for increasing the health care budget to 15 percent of GDP.
- Ties to the Brotherhood and the Former Regime: In response to Moussa’s allegation that Aboul Fotouh’s oath to the Brotherhood cast doubt on his loyalty to the state, Aboul Fotouh stated that he took an oath of loyalty to the Supreme Guide just as anyone does when he joins a group, but now that he has left the Brotherhood, that oath is no longer binding. Answering an inquiry about his ties to the Mubarak regime, Moussa highlighted his accomplishments in the realm of Egyptian diplomacy and emphasized his historical willingness to challenge the Mubarak regime while in power.
- Platform Priorities: Aboul Fotouh stated that he would devote the first one hundred days of his presidency to restoring security, and would then focus on health and education. Moussa discussed the importance of reforming the education system and preparing students for employment.
- Foreign Relations: Moussa said that he is against a war with Iran; he also called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and referred to Israel as a “state that undertakes hostile practices.” Aboul Fotouh stressed his willingness to establish ties with Tehran as long as Iran does not try to impose Shia thought on Egypt. He also added that the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty would stand only if amended to reflect the interests of both nations. The treaty, he added, would be subject to a five-year parliamentary review. Aboul Fotouh referred to Israel as an “enemy” of Egypt, Arabs, and Muslims.
Ultimately, Moussa sought to paint Aboul Fotouh as an Islamist who has held contradictory views at different times, implicitly indicating his unreliability. Aboul Fotouh, in response, sought to depict Moussa as a member of the former regime, thus questioning his commitment to revolutionary principles.
In addition to these issues, the personal wealth of the candidates, campaign fundraising budgets, the makeup of the Constituent Assembly, and presidential responsibilities, among other contested matters, were discussed.
Noticeably absent from the debate were the other eleven presidential candidates. The debate organizers stated that Moussa and Aboul Fotouh were selected due to their higher polling numbers and willingness to participate in the event; unconfirmed reports suggest that Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was invited but chose not to participate. While the debate was heavily covered and commented on in the Twittersphere, this is not necessarily indicative of its reception among Egypt’s general population.