Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Will Egypt Make History Again?

by Ed Husain
May 9, 2012

A man walks past campaign posters of presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks past campaign posters of presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in Cairo (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Egypt is set to broadcast a televised debate between two top presidential candidates, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa. One was once an inmate in Mubarak’s prisons, and the other Mubarak’s foreign minister.

I have met both men, and they are equally adept at the art of deflecting questions. The next president of Egypt will serve his term competing with the Egyptian military for influence—both men know this, and have bent over backward to be seen as cooperative. Neither candidate clearly represents the generation or ideas that gave birth to the Tahrir Square protests last year, but just as rumors were spreading that the elections would be cancelled and further doom was capturing the new Egyptian political space, the idea of monazarat, debates, has helped lift spirits.

The moderator, Yosri Fouda, a former al-Jazeera correspondent who now anchors a popular show on ONtv, has received hundreds of suggested questions for the candidates from Egyptians on Twitter, among them:

“What will you do to fix the relationship between the police and the people?”

“How will you encourage foreign direct investment?”

“What do you plan to do about corruption?”

“How will you guarantee an independent judiciary?”

This debate is vitally important. If it goes ahead as scheduled (very few things are certain in today’s Egypt), it will help realize the dreams of young Egyptians who have sacrificed blood, time, and treasure to create a new democratic Egypt. Second, allowing the debate to occur is a reassuring sign from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that it is not considering canceling or postponing elections. Third, holding a presidential debate sets a precedent that future candidates for public office will go through similar public scrutiny, thereby ensuring greater transparency and accountability in the emerging political system. Fourth, the debate is a strong message from the Arab world’s most populous country to its regional neighbors that Egypt’s presidents will answer to the people.

Finally, something to watch for: Aboul Fotouh, the current underdog, has had years of experience addressing large crowds of protesters at the Muslim Brotherhood rallies he led. Many outside Cairo are yet to recognize Aboul Fotouh as a serious contender. In this debate, Moussa has everything to lose, and Aboul Fotouh everything to gain.

You can watch the debate here tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. EST or 7:30 p.m. Cairo time.

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