Egypt watches new TV approach to politics

May 11, 2012

By Yolande Knell, BBC News

Thursday night is the beginning of the weekend in Egypt and it is normally a night to go out and have fun.

Instead many Egyptians opted to stay at home or head to coffee shops where they could watch this televised live political debate lasting about four hours excluding the long commercial breaks.

Newspapers had billed it as “unprecedented” for the Arab world and “the first confrontation between the two strongest presidential candidates”.

Egypt’s best-known talk-show presenters joined the pre-debate build-up, explaining that Amr Moussa and Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh were chosen out of the 13 candidates standing because they had led several opinion polls.

The format, which some viewers compared to a game show because of its dramatic music sequences and beeping countdowns, was designed to give each candidate a grilling.

“We studied the experiments with candidates’ debates in other countries including those in the United States, Canada and France,” said one host, Amr Khafagi. “Then we developed an Egyptian version”.

Mutual challenges

The two men were asked 24 questions ranging from how to limit the future president’s powers to ensure he did not turn into a dictator, to traditional subjects of education, employment and health.

However it was identity issues that Egypt has wrestled with since last year’s uprising that dominated. The two men repeatedly challenged each other on Islamism and affiliation to the former government.

Amr Moussa attacked his rival’s record as a long-time leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In turn, Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh criticised the former foreign minister for his service to what he said was an oppressive and corrupt regime.

“Vote for me because I represent national unity and the 25 January spirit without which we cannot build the country,” said Mr Aboul Fotouh. “Don’t vote for the one who was against the revolution”.

Amr Moussa urged Egyptians: “vote for me because I have been tested, I have experience. This proved to have been marked by honesty and devotion.”

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