Cairo: Egyptian expatriates headed to the polls on Friday, casting the first votes to name a successor to ousted leader Hosni Mubarak in what are hoped to be the first genuinely contested presidential elections in the country`s history.
The voting by Egyptians living abroad 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 yesterday 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 in Egypt on May 23.