In Downtown Cairo on Thursday night big screens were erected outside coffee shops and there was a sense of real anticipation as people congregated on the streets to watch. People were gathering in their homes, expectantly debating about what would transpire on TV later that night. Would there be a clear cut winner? Which side would make the most effective attacks and which would provide the sternest defence?
But this was not for a big game between Egypt’s soccer giants Ahly and Zamalek, although the “pre game build up” felt oddly similar. It was for a Presidential debate between the two leading candidates in the upcoming Egyptian election. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Amr Moussa, a former diplomat under Hosni Mubarak clashed on screen for over three hours.
The debate itself went on long after midnight- something that seems to me to be classically Egyptian.
The extraordinary interest in the debate and the election in general, must be viewed as a positive sign in post Mubarak Egypt.
I have written about the election in today's (May 13th) "The Sunday Business Post" in a little detail, but it does seem that the polls are making this a two horse race. Although polls are far from solidly reliable here.
The central tactics of the debate were clear. Moussa tried to paint Fotouh as still linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. As a candidate who speaks liberal to liberals but Islamist to Islamists.
Aboul Fotouh argued that Moussa, the former Minister in a Mubarak cabinet, was part of the old system and no supporter of the revolution- a revolution in which the old system was meant to be swept away.
Fotouh's campaign is interesting, and certainly the only one that seems to have energised even a section of the revolutionary youth who were the chief movers in last year's revolution and since. But as it happens, most recent polls suggest he may come up short in the coming race.
Many revolutionaries remain (understandably in many ways) cynical about the election- with some thinking that the future president, no mater who he is, will still be just a puppet of the military masters.
But it seems unlikely that this is the point that Aboul Fotouh was trying to make when he hired puppets to sing his insanely catchy campaign song...