First Presidential Debate on Air Today

Two candidates will square off Thursday in Egypt’s first-ever televised presidential debate – just two weeks ahead of the elections.

Secular candidate Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former foreign minister and the former head of the Arab League, enjoys a considerable lead in a recent poll.

He will debate Abdel Moneim Abou Al Fotouh, a moderate candidate, who was once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a poll published Monday by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Fotouh was running second, edged out by Moussa.

Moussa enjoys popularity in poorer, more densely populated provinces, where many long for stability associated with the old regime.

Abou Al Fotouh enjoys the support of more educated voters.

Absent in the debate is the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party: Mohamed Morsi.

While the party holds a majority in parliament, Morsi enjoys less popularity, coming in fourth place in the poll.

Asked Wednesday whether the Muslim Brotherhood would move Egypt in the direction of an Iranian-style Islamic republic, Morsi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that his party supports democracy and not theocracy.

“There is no such thing called an ‘Islamic democracy’,” he said. “There is democracy only, and democracy is the instrument that is present now. The people are the source of authority,” he said.

Another candidate who will be missing in Thursday’s debate is former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who runs third in the poll.

Egyptians will vote for their new president nearly 16 months after the popular uprising that brought down Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Distrust and anger – particularly against the military’s power in Egypt’s governmental affairs — still inspire protests, some of which end in deadly clashes.

Although the anger against the military is palpable, the Egyptian population as a whole still has a favorable view of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, according to a Pew Research Center survey published Tuesday.

The survey also found among Egyptians strong support for democracy — preferring it widely to any other form of government — as well as the institutions that support it, such as a free press.

Concerns about the economy ranked about as high with Egyptian voters in the Pew survey as the importance of democracy.

Islam is seen as a desirable basis for making laws, and most Egyptians favor a more religious approach to society as seen in Saudi Arabia over the secular approach of Turkey.