A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Own Thoughts on the Debate

I said I'd post my own thoughts on the4 Egyptan d4ebate. Let me stipulate up front that I have not watched every minute of the four and a half hours: I actually have a job. I watched parts of it live and have watched other parts since, and I have read the live blogs and transcripts I linked to earlier, So I may have missed something, or you may not agree with my impressions. But here goes anyway:

Too long. I can't imagine anybody will disagree. Four and a half hours? Running till 2 am? The Cairo elites may be nightowls, but do you think villagers who have to be up at dawn were sitting in the coffeehouse till 2 am? True, this was on commercial, not State, TV, and probably intended for the elites.

Too selective. It's true that Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abu'l-Futuh have led most polls. But not by huge margins. And there are 13 candidates, and some, like Ahmad Shafiq and Muhammad Morsi, do have support bases. This gives an impression of the Powers That Be having decided these are the "real" candidates: one from the old regime, and one an Islamist, but a kindly, liberal Islamist, not a wild-bearded fire-eater.  Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, actually gave a long interview on another TV station during the debate, and drew away some viewers.

Both men came out swinging. Generally I had the impression Moussa was the more aggressive and more ad hominem, in his attempts to portray Abu'l-Futuh as a dangerous Islamist, still at heart a Muslim Brother or a Salafi from his al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya youth. At the same time he tried to paint Abu'l-Futuh as a hardcore Islamist, he also raised the latter's opinion that Muslims were free to convert to Christianity, a position opposed to traditional interpretations of Shari‘a: so he could also alienate Abu'l-Futuh's Islamist support base. He's likely to have had more success in raising doubts among some of the Abu'l-Futuh's liberal supporters, I'd guess. On the other side of the coin, Abu'l-Futuh tried to portray Moussa as a fixture of the old regime, one of the fallul or "remnants" as they are called..

Not a lot of detailed programs. There was a lot of generality on economic issues and not a lot of clear programs spelled out, as far as I can tell. Abu'l-Futuh supported health care insurance without clearly saying how it would be paid for. On foreign policy, Abu'l-Futuh wants to "revise" the peace treaty with Israel; both men steered clear of being too pro-US. As I noted last night, in the wee small hours Moussa called Iran and Arab country, though he's the former head of the Arab League and a former Foreign Minister who clearly knows better,

The elephant in the living room: SCAF. There was a question about the role of the military. Both men gave it patriotic support and expressed confidence it would return to the barracks. Abu'l-Futuh favored a civilian Defense Minister. Both men want the courts to investigate the virginity tests issue and favor civilian rule. But if there was a discussion of the large number of civilians now held after trial by military courts (far more than in the Mubarak years), I missed it.

Who won? I suspect that the supporters of each candidate thinks his or her guy won, as is often the case in these things. Secularists think Moussa nailed Abu'l-Futuh as still really an Islamist (which I suspect he is), while Abu'l-Futuh's fans feel he successfully portrayed Moussa as another of the fallul (which he also is). Moussa's finger-wagging, accusatory style will be seen as aggressive truth-telling by his backers and rude presumption by his opponents. Those supporting any of the 11 candidates who weren't there will probably find both men wanting.

These are provisional reactions. I haven't read every word of the transcripts or watched every minute of the debate. I may have more thoughts in the future.

1 comment:

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