Middle East

Egypt presidential election candidates in first TV debate

Egypt has held its first-ever live debate between presidential candidates.

It featured the two expected front-runners in the presidential vote later this month - former Arab League head Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

Millions of Egyptians tuned into the lengthy debate, broadcast on two popular private TV networks.

The first round of voting is on 23-24 May. If no-one has an absolute majority a run-off will be held in June.

It is hoped that this will be Egypt's first free and fair election for the presidency.

Several opinion polls suggest that Mr Moussa and Mr Aboul Fotouh are leading the race.

Already, that has led them to attack each other on the campaign trail.

As the TV debate got under way, Amr Moussa attacked the record of his rival as a former leading member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Aboul Fotouh, on the other hand, called the former foreign minister a remnant of the ousted regime.

Responding to the first question, Amr Moussa said he wanted Egypt to be a place where people felt safe.

"We aim to establish a respectable state in the region and in the whole world, a country which contributes to regional and international progress, a state which restores leadership and pioneering," he said.

Mr Aboul Fotouh said he wanted Egypt to be "the embodiment of the will and demands of the Egyptian people".

"The state I envision is a democratic and sovereign state which upholds the values and principles of Islam. It is a state where our youths have jobs, people have [a] decent living and are proud of being Egyptians. It is a state where Egyptians are not humiliated at police stations at home or abroad," he said.

As yet, many voters say they are undecided about whom to support. This debate could have helped them make up their minds, says the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo.

Close scrutiny

However, it also poses a high risk for the candidates, with every remark likely to be closely scrutinised.

The debate was carried on both Egypt's ONTV and Dream channels and moderated by two well-known TV presenters.

Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question, and was allowed to comment on the answers of his rival.

The debate was originally scheduled to take place on 3 May, but it was postponed because of clashes outside the defence ministry in Cairo, in which at least 11 people were killed and dozens injured.

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