Egypt held its first ever debate between presidential candidates on Thursday when two frontrunners for this month’s election dueled it out on television as the military rulers appointed four new cabinet ministers in a mini-reshuffle that fell far short of the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief, faced the moderate Islamist Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh in the debate which was aired on two private Egyptian television channels, ON TV and Dream.
The hotly disputed May 23-24 election will mark the end of a tumultuous military-led transitional period to civilian rule after a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
If the May 23-24 first round does not produce a winner, a runoff will be held in June.
At the beginning of the debate, Abul Fotouh said that he dreams of a “democratic country ruled with Sharia (Islamic law) principles where dignity of Egyptians is preserved.”
Moussa, meanwhile, said that “Sharia principles should be the source of all legislation while respecting everyone and other religions.” Moussa said he wanted a state where “citizens feel safe and confident, a state that responds to people’s demands.”
Answering a question on the expected role to be played by the Egyptian armed forces within the next five years, Moussa said that the army has a specified role, which is defending the nation. “On the scheduled power transfer time, they will hand over power and return to their original role. We must respect the armed forces and avoid directing any insults to it,” he said.
Abul Fotouh pointed out that the current misunderstanding has nothing to do with the respect that the Egyptians feel towards the armed forces. “The role specified in the constitution regarding the armed forces is enough and should remain the same in the new constitution. The armed forced would always defend the nation. We are in need of a strong army,” he added.
Regarding the system of taxing to be applied in future, Moussa said that he believes in the “descending system of taxes, which depends mainly on exempting the poor people. The system of taxes should be strong and should bring the country high revenues. It should be based mainly on the social justice.”
Abul Fotouh said that “the system of taxes should be restructured in a way to guarantee a rise in the state’s revenues. There should be a big rise on entertaining products, especially the cigarettes. Taxes should be imposed on real estate and the stock exchange.”
Opinion polls suggest Moussa and Abul Fotouh, a former senior member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, are leading the race, with Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq trailing them.
The Brotherhood, which dominates the parliament and senate, is represented by Mohammed Mursi, the head of its political arm, after its first choice, deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified over a previous military court conviction.
The military rulers who took charge after Mubarak’s ouster say they will hand power to the elected president by the end of June.
Earlier on Thursday, Egypt’s military rulers appointed four new cabinet ministers on Thursday in a mini-reshuffle that fell far short of the demands of the Islamist-dominated parliament for a change of government.
Islamists have been clamoring for a new premier to take the reins ahead of Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential elections which are due May 23-24, accusing Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri of stalling the revolution.
The new appointees -- who will head the ministries of higher education, culture, labor and parliamentary Affairs -- are technocrats or university lecturers with no party affiliation, official sources said.
They were sworn in during a ceremony overseen by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces which took power after the ouster last year of veteran president Mubarak.
Mohammed Abdul Hamid al-Nashar was named minister of higher education; Mohammed Saber Arab named culture minister, Refaat Mohammed Hassan appointed culture minister and Amr Mohammed Salem minister for parliamentary affairs.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been very critical of Ganzouri -- who was also prime minister under Mubarak -- and has repeatedly urged the military rulers to sack him and appoint a new cabinet.