Egyptian presidential candidates clash in historic televised debate

Two weeks before Egypt’s first presidential election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, two leading candidates battled in the Arab world’s first televised debate on Thursday night. Former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and former Arab League head and Mubarak foreign minister, Amr Moussa, headed off in front of millions of Egyptian viewers, ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Two weeks before Egypt's first presidential election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, two leading candidates battled in the Arab world's first televised debate on Thursday night. Former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and former Arab League head and Mubarak foreign minister, Amr Moussa, headed off in front of millions of Egyptian viewers, attacking each other over political histories and arguing over the role of Islam in governance. Aboul Fotouh attacked Moussa for being part of the Mubarak's "tyrant regime," saying, "Those who take part in creating the problem couldn't be part of the solution." Meanwhile, Moussa accused Aboul Fotouh of maintaining allegiances to the Muslim Brotherhood, and questioned his coalition of secular liberals, moderate Islamists, and ultraconservative Salafis. Both candidates expressed their support for a constitution based on sharia, or Islamic law. The first round of polling in the presidential election will take place on May 23 and 24. If none of the 13 candidates wins an absolute majority, a runoff will be scheduled for June.

Syria

Two weeks before Egypt’s first presidential election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, two leading candidates battled in the Arab world’s first televised debate on Thursday night. Former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and former Arab League head and Mubarak foreign minister, Amr Moussa, headed off in front of millions of Egyptian viewers, attacking each other over political histories and arguing over the role of Islam in governance. Aboul Fotouh attacked Moussa for being part of the Mubarak’s "tyrant regime," saying, "Those who take part in creating the problem couldn’t be part of the solution." Meanwhile, Moussa accused Aboul Fotouh of maintaining allegiances to the Muslim Brotherhood, and questioned his coalition of secular liberals, moderate Islamists, and ultraconservative Salafis. Both candidates expressed their support for a constitution based on sharia, or Islamic law. The first round of polling in the presidential election will take place on May 23 and 24. If none of the 13 candidates wins an absolute majority, a runoff will be scheduled for June.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council condemned Thursday’s car bomb attacks in Damascus that killed at least 55 people and injured nearly 400. The council pushed all sides to "immediately and comprehensively" implement the peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice claimed skepticism over the Syrian governments commitment to the initiative. However, said she believed it is too early to tell if the U.N. observer mission and Annan peace plan have failed. The opposition Syrian National Council has blamed the Syrian government, which they accuse of collaborating with al Qaeda, for Thursday’s deadly attacks, asserting that "The regime is now trying to kill this Annan plan, and by a new technique which is terrorism." The group has called for an international investigation into the bombings. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that intelligence reports indicate an al Qaeda presence in Syria, however "we don’t have very good intelligence as to just exactly what their activities are." Meanwhile, Syrian troops attacked the city of Homs with some of the heaviest shelling in weeks.

Headlines  

  • Preliminary results in Algeria’s parliamentary elections show the ruling National Liberation Front and the Islamist Green Alliance in the lead. However, the Islamists accuse officials of "massive fraud."
  • The retrial of 20 Bahraini medics who cared for protesters during last year’s revolts has been adjourned until June 14 when verdicts are expected to be read.
  • British intelligence played a leading role to foil a plot to bomb a U.S. bound plane, and the double agent in the scheme was reported to be a Saudi Arabian born British citizen.
  • Top Israeli cabinet ministers met to discuss the pending demolition of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ulpana, but made no final decision.

Arguments and Analysis

‘Iran’s future: out of the trap’ (RN Khatami and Ramin Jahanbegloo, OpenDemocracy)

"For their part, Iranian civil-society activists have faced severe restrictions for a long time. The green movement that erupted  in the aftermath of the presidential elections of June 2009, when the reformist candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were defeated amid allegations of widespread fraud , was last able to hold a major protest in February 2011. Since then, there have been a few small and sporadic demonstrations across Iran, but not enough  to indicate that the green movement is going strong…It is made even more distant, however, by calls for war and the tightening of sanctions on Iran, for these stifle rather than promote both intercultural and intracultural dialogue. It is vital here to recall that, though the repressive mechanisms of the regime have ended the protest wave, most Iranians (especially the young) are more than ever looking  for change. A violent revolution is out of the question, so the only way for Iranians to kindle such a change from within  is to continue with dialogue and non-violent civil disobedience."

‘Algeria’s election: Still waiting for real democracy’ (The Economist)

"In any case, few commentators predicted that as many as the 35% who turned out last time would bother to vote. Yet 21 new parties had been approved since February. The authorities’ preferred outcome is said to be a parliament made up of a "mosaic" of parties, with no strong block having a dominant voice. A handful of genuine opposition parties, including the old Socialist Forces Front (FFS in French) and the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Front (FJD), evidently believed it worth striving to limit the scope for fraud. So they highlighted the dearth of their party representatives at polling stations and secured, as a last-minute concession, the interior ministry’s agreement to put party representatives on the commissions that supervised vote-counts at governorate level. Parliament anyway has little sway. Instead, a select group of unelected civilian and military "décideurs", known to Algerians as "le pouvoir" ("the power"), rules the roost, even deciding who should be president. The constitution provides for a strong executive head of state. The most powerful man in the land may be Mohamed Mediène, known as Toufiq, who has headed military intelligence for two decades."

 –By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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