News24

Egyptians abroad head to the polls

2012-05-11 22:10

Cairo - Egyptian expatriates are heading to the polls on Friday to vote to replace ousted leader Hosni Mubarak in what are hoped to be the first genuinely contested presidential elections in the country's history.

The expatriate voting comes a day after two election front-runners, one of Mubarak's former foreign ministers and a moderate Islamist, squared off in the Arab world's first ever presidential debate. The two traded barbs over the role of religion and how to bring democratic reform to Egypt, an often fiery exchange that gave Egyptians a taste of the tactics common to presidential face-offs in the United States and Europe.

Viewers crowded around television sets in outdoor cafes for the four-hour debate, aired on Thursday evening on several independent TV channels — a startling new experiment for Egypt after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule under Mubarak, forced out of power last year after a wave of protests.

For most of Mubarak's rule, he was re-elected in referendums in which he was the only candidate. The last presidential election, in 2005, was the first to allow multiple candidates, but Mubarak was considered a certain winner and campaigning was weak — and a direct debate was out of the question.

The debate, which ran well past midnight, pitted Amr Moussa, who served as Mubarak's foreign minister for 10 years until becoming head of the Arab League in 2001, against Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a moderate Islamist who broke with the Muslim Brotherhood last year. The two are among 13 candidates competing in the election, due to begin on 23 May.

The debate repeatedly turned combative, as the two candidates, each standing behind a podium, were also given time to throw questions at each other.