On Thursday, Egypt's leading candidates in the upcoming election square off in a presidential debate which is certain to be divisive. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leader of the Musilm Brotherhood running as a liberal Islamist, faces off against Amr Moussa, a former Hosni Mubarak diplomat campaigning as the secular candidate.
Mohamed Morsi, the third of the three front-runners, was not invited to participate in the election. He is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
PolicyMic will be following the debate live and providing live updates and analysis. Refresh this page to follow along in real-time.
5:50pm 10 million Egyptian pounds has been set as the limit on spending for presidential campaigns. What are the sources of funding for your campaign, how much have you spent up to this point, and have you accepted any foreign donations?
Moussa: We have not accepted any foreign donations and up to this point we have spent around 3 million Egyptian pounds. And in reality, the 10 million spending limit should be raised because advertising in the media has become very expensive.
Aboul Fotouh: We haven't been offered any foreign donations and if we were we wouldn't have accepted them. Our campaign relies on the efforts of the Egyptian youth and they have contributed to the campaign in small amounts. Also, we need to take a stand against any forces who attempt to buy votes.
5:45pm What are the qualifications you will look for in your Vice President, assistants and advisers?
Moussa: We want to gather together all the experts in different fields to help build the nation, and having expertise is the primary criteria. However, we also recognize that women, Copts, and the youth have a role to play in supporting the President.
Aboul Fotouh: We will look for expertise, and we must encourage youth empowerment; because of this I have stated in my platform that the Vice President will come from the youth of the country (and will be less than 45 years old).
5:40pm Both candidates are asked what their priorities will be in reforming the health care system,
Moussa: We can have deeply-rooted change in the healthcare system over the next 4 years. We need to have small hospitals in every town and village and larger health centers in the capital of every governorate. I want all citizens to be covered under the national health care system.
Aboul Fotouh: It is not impossible to reform the healthcare system and this is one of our priorities, as all citizens have the right to good health. Having a healthy environment, clear water and sufficient sanitation services are also all indirectly related to fulfilling this goal.
5:35pm. Aboul Fotouh asks what he meant by referring to "the general principles" of Sharia?
Moussa responds by saying his understanding does coincidence with the prevalent understanding of this topic, and it refers to the general framework of Islamic thought which encourages tolerance, serving people and the nation, moral values, etc. He states that we have to be clear, though, that Aboul Fotouh calls for applying the rules of Sharia whereas I am calling for applying only the principles (as is stated in Article 2). .
5:22pm Moussa asks Aboul Fotouh what he would do to decrease wasteful spending?
Aboul Fotouh states that we can lessen subsidies and government spending in certain ways so that we ultimately have 30 to 40 billion Egyptian pounds available to spend on other things like health care and education. He stated he wouldn't change subsidies on things like wheat but feels that in some ways energy subsidies can be decreased (for example, places like hotels that use electricity are able to pay the full price for it so their energy does not need to be subsidized.
5:15pm What tax system do you support?
Moussa: One which takes into consideration the social justice concerns (and individual's social status.) The system needs to be established such that it gathers the necessary resources for the state but it also encourages domestic and foreign investment in Egypt.
Aboul Fotouh: We plan on increasing the tax revenue significantly over the next four years through different measures like gradually increasing the cigarette tax.
5:08pm What do you think the minimum wage should be set to be?
Moussa: It should be the minimum amount necessary to live a decent life. We also need to examine the wages themselves and see if they adjust on the based of fluctuating prices. It is in this context that we need to establish a minimum and maximum wage.
Aboul Fotouh: I agree with the decision made by the Administrative Court that the minimum wage should be 1200 Egyptian pounds, but of course that's not a fixed amount because its related to inflation, etc. As for a maximum wage, it should be 20 to 30 times the amount of the minimum wage, but only in the public sector (not in the private sector).We also need to re-examine the tax system.
5:00pm Question: What do you think is the ideal role for the Armed Forces?
Moussa: They have a specific, defined role (preserving national security). Once the new president is elected they will return to their original role. We need to respect the Armed Forces and avoid insulting it.
Aboul Fotouh: The dispute that has resulted between political parties and the people with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has no relationship with our respect for and the honor of the Egyptian Armed Forces. I suggest that no changes be made to the constitutional articles dealing with the role of the military. And In our campaign we strive for our army to be the strongest army in the region.
4:40pm Amr Moussa asks Aboul Fotouh: in a previous interview you stated you believe that it is the right of a Muslim to convert to Christianity and it is the right of a Christian to convert to Islam. Do you still believe this?
Aboul Fotouh: That quote isn't precise: I said that God has given all of humanity the right to choose a religion. And when it comes to apostates, we can try to convince them to change their mind but ultimately we cannot interferring with their right to choose.
4:35pm What is your specific vision for the relationship between religion and state?
Moussa: There is consensus on Article 2 of the constitution which states that the principles of Sharia are the main source of legislation. Different religious groups also have their different primary sources. Egypt is a religious society and the foundation for all the candidates' visions is rooted in religion, but when it comes to making decisions about social issues (health, education, etc.) this foundation needs to agree with the needs of Egyptian society. For example, our education system must be modern and must be able to prepare our youth to compete in today's world.
Aboul Fotouh: The nature of Islam and its basic principles is that it seeks the best interests of the people. So when we seek the best interests of the people in health, education, agriculture, etc this is in agreement with Islam. As the current constitution states, and we hope the forthcoming constiution will also affirm, Sharia is the main source of legislation, under the supervision of the Constitutional Court.
4:25pm Question to both candidates: In your opinion, what is the ideal way to form the Constitutional Committee?
Moussa: Because it is the primary document which will govern all of society and political and legal life, it must have appropriate representation of all sectors of society and no single group should have a majority because it is the right of all citizens to be represented in this process, not the right of only certain factions.
Aboul Fotouh: I previously announced that the Committee should be comprised fully of individuals from outside of the Parliament and that all its 100 individuals should represent the diversity of the country in its geographic locations, political factions, etc. And in order to reach consensus in writing the constitution, a sufficient amount of time must be given to have a national dialogue arround the its various components.
4:17pm Question to both candidates: what are the powers/authorities that the president must necessarily have, and what authorities should the president give up?
Moussa: The president will have clearly-established authorities as defined by the constitution. He will not serve as the head of the judiciary nor will he have any legislative or oversight powers (which are reserved for the parliament).
Aboul Fotouh: I have been a supporter of a presidential-parliamentary system because such a system limits the powers of the president (a pure presidential system gives the president greater powers). The president should not intervene in judicial affairs (for example, he should not appoint the Attorney General), but some of his responsibilities include foreign relations, coordinating between the different powers, and serving as head of national security.
4:00pm Moussa is given opportunity to ask Aboul Fotouh a question: he points to the fact that initially Aboul Fotouh attended the protests but later withdrew his support, so he asks him to explain the contradiction. Aboul Fotouh responses by stating that Moussa's information is incorrect and imprecise, and that he has supported peaceful demonstrations, but at the same time the respected security forces have the right and responsibility to protect people from violence, and they can and should pursue the instigators of unrest without using violence themselves.
3:53pm Candidates are asked how they would respond to ongoing protests once they came to power. Moussa responds by saying that we need to acknowledge the legitimate demands of the people for a higher standard of living and the government needs to be very transparent in taking steps to meet these needs of the people. Aboul Fotouh responds by saying he doesn't expect protests like the ones we've seen recently to continue when he is in power because people are protesting in response to the many failures of the last regime (the failure to provide adequate housing, decent food prices, etc.). He also emphasizes the importance of national unity.
UPDATES: 3:43 PM While we're waiting for the debate to start, here's a great set of cartoons published by the BBC:
Mr Abu-Ismail, a disqualified candidate, was portrayed under Lionel Messi's jersey
Mr Musa, a former Mubarak minister, is depicted as a "transformer"
Mr Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, has been portrayed as a spare tyre (after the number one Muslim Brotherhood candidate was disqualified)
3:38 PM: Mona el-Shazly, the famous Egyptian TV talk show host, gives a final dramatic introduction, "Welcome to the first presidential debate in Egypt's history. The judge is you."
3:26 PM: On Twitter, Egyptians are making comparisons between the debate and a big soccer match.
3:23PM: A montage of images from the Arab Spring Egyptian revolution begins the debate, before hosts Mona al-Shazly and Yosri Fouda begin the debate.
3:00 PM Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh prepares for the debate:
2:50 PM Ali El-Bahnasawy says on Twitter that Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is stuck in traffic and will not be able to reach the debate for another 20 mins.
BACKGROUND: Aboul Fotouh is a physician who founded an Islamist student movement in the 1970s that merged with the Muslim Brotherhood. He eventually spent more than six years in prison for his work with the Muslim Brotherhood, and he became a leader of the reform factoin within the group. He argues against barring women from the group. He was expelled from the group last year for announcing an independent campaign when the Brotherhood had decided not to run a candidate in the election. See Shadi Hamid's great profile of the candidate here.
Meanwhile, Moussa served as the foreign minister for a decade under Mubarak in the 1990s. He became a national hero for participating in debates in the 1990s against the Israeli foreign minister over Palestine. He has been regarded as a possible presidential candidate for years, and became the general secretary of the Arab League.
A presidential poll published by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies showed Moussa in the lead. Moussa has the support of poorer, more densly populate provinces, while Aboul Fotouh leads amongst more educated voters.
13 candidates are competing for the Egyptian presidency. Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq is currently in third place in polls, but he is not participating in Thursday night's debate.
Egyptians will hold their election nearly 16 months after the uprising that brought down Mubarak in February 2011.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh