In the first part of the debate between presidential candidates former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and former Brotherhood member Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, the first attacked from the very first minute and skillfully used his long diplomatic experience to maneuver and prevail.
It was obvious that Moussa planned to use a strong loophole to attack Abul Fotouh: the support of the Salafi al-Nour Party and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, the latter being known for spilling Egyptian blood in 1980s and 1990s.
Abul Fotouh tried in vain to defend himself and refute Moussa’s allegations to the extent that I actually felt sorry for him in the first part that was dexterously run by presenter Mona al-Shazli, who was more like the international referee they bring in important football games.
She cleverly paid attention to Moussa’s offside kick when he cornered his rival about Muslims converting to Christianity and quoted him as saying earlier in Shazli’s own talk show that this is a matter of “freedom of faith.” She, however, said she did not remember him saying that. It was a point scored against Abul Fotouh who felt he was in an awkward position and had to beat around the bush in order not to upset his supporters from the ultra-conservative al-Nour Party and who demand a strict application of Sharia (Islamic law).
Abul Fotouh finally said that a Muslim converting to Christianity will not be killed yet will be asked to repent for the rest of his/her life. “So, you now admit there should be freedom of faith,” Moussa said cleverly in an attempt to strip him of Salafi support and to show that Abul Fotouh shifts easily from one camp to another. He is liberal with the liberals, Sufi with the Sufis, Shiite with the Shiites, Bahaai with the Bahaais, and Copt with the Copts.
Throughout the debate, Moussa focused on one single weak point from which Abul Fotouh suffers: the support of al-Nour Party. Moussa reiterated that this support is definitely the result of a series of promises Abul Fotouh gave to a party that regarded Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz as an apostate as one of its members, who later lost in parliamentary elections for this reason, said in several statements.
The performance of al-Nour Party MPs in the parliament was not any better. One of them wants to cancel teaching English because it is the language of “infidels” and another gets a nose job then claims he was a victim of an armed robbery. Members of al-Nour have made so many mistakes and this was not redressed by the non-stop apologies issued by party spokesman Nader Bakkar.
That is why Abul Fotouh could not push back the balls kicked in his goal and when he tried in order to escape al-Nour Party dilemma, his rival scored another goal through reminding him of the support of the militant al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, of which Abul Fotouh is a co-founder.
The debate showed that even if Abul Fotouh has a good chance among other presidential candidates, the support of al-Nour Part is a point of weakness that will make him lose a lot of votes.
The writer is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya net. The article was published in the Egyptian al-Gomhuriya daily and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid