Egypt's first-ever presidential debate may have failed to swing votes, but was a refreshing show
Who ever imagined that Egyptian presidential candidates would stand one day in front of cameras and battle it out courteously, using rational arguments to woo the electorate? This is the question that Abdelbari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, asked in the introduction of his column at the weekend.
It was such "a pleasant surprise" to see that presidential debate actually happen on Thursday night, he said.
"It was good to see the Egyptian public, which has been sidelined for decades, if not centuries, recover its sway and status as the ultimate kingmaker, and to see candidates courting it and trying to win its favour - and its vote - in every way they can."
This is a changed Egypt indeed, the editor added. This is an Egypt that has come out of an era of "domestication" and is now embracing "the larger expanses of liberty".
The debate last week pitted Amr Moussa, the former chief of the Arab League and former foreign minister under President Hosni Mubarak, against Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent candidate who was expelled from the Muslim Brotherhood for declaring his candidacy for the presidential office without the group's approval.
Mr Moussa is believed to be a moderate liberal, and Mr Aboul Fotouh a moderate Islamist, with the two candidates being pictured as front-runners. There are another 11 candidates in the race but none have yet taken part in a televised debate. The election is scheduled for May 23 and 24.
"I watched, like millions of Egyptians and Arabs, that most exciting debate … and I must say that the performance of both men was outstanding," the editor affirmed.
Still, Mr Moussa made a crucial faux pas when he described Israel as an "adversary" instead of "enemy", as Mr Aboul Fotouh rightly did, he noted. That choice of words may cost Mr Moussa a large segment of the Egyptian electorate that indeed considers Israel an enemy.
Plus, Mr Moussa's hammering of the argument that his opponent did not have any political experience was not the best one. Mr Moussa's former boss, Mr Mubarak, had no political experience whatsoever when he came to power 30 years ago, before being unseated in 2011.
For his part, Mr Aboul Fotouh runs the risk of losing some of his Salafist allies and most of Egypt's liberals. He put emphasis on his support for women's rights and the rights of minorities - namely, the country's Christian Copts - which the Salafists will not like, the editor said. At the same time, he stood up for the full application of Sharia, which the liberals would not accept.
All in all, it augurs well for this new Egypt that "needs change just as much as it needs experience."
'I hate Shakespeare, and I'm not ashamed'
"Yep, I hate Shakespeare," wrote Yasser Hareb, an Emirati writer, in a playful opinion article for the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan yesterday.
"And I don't hate him just because, years ago, I got a really low grade in my TOEFL test when I was required to critique a Shakespeare passage," the writer said.
"I hate Shakespeare because of his approach to love in Romeo and Juliet - a love that was too rehearsed, colourless and mechanical. Plus, how do you kill the protagonists at the end of the story?"
Othello isn't up to scratch either, the writer went on. "Othello's naive suffering is basically the main plot in virtually every Bedouin soap on our Arabic channels, since the trend caught on at the end of the 1980s."
Soon enough, it gets too saccharine to watch, the writer noted.
"This said, I'm in no position to judge of Shakespeare's poetry … Only someone who sank their teeth deep enough into the language can do that."
For sure, throngs of Shakespeare fans - many of whom have never read any of his work - will spring to his defence, he noted. "But I will still hate Shakespeare, and here I am saying it in public without shame."
Wasn't he the man who quipped: "Cowards die many times before their deaths/ The valiant never taste of death but once"?
A fatwa authorising 'halal bribery' now?
"There is nothing more dangerous than those fatwas that are churned out in five minutes yet manage to hold the Muslim world back for five centuries," wrote columnist Khalaf Al Harbi in yesterday's edition of the Saudi newspaper Okaz.
One of the most famous fatwas that resulted in the Muslim world being transfixed for about 300 years was issued by Ottoman clerics who ruled that the printing machine must not be used by Muslims.
Their argument was twofold: the mass printing of the Quran might lead to the distortion of its original message, and Muslim calligraphers would be out of a job. So, at least, this kind of fatwa was semi-justified by an argument that made some ethical sense, the writer said.
A new hit fatwa on "halal bribery" does not even have that saving grace, he said. The fatwa allows a Muslim person giving a bribe to a public servant if that is the only way to get their request processed.
"Bribery is halal now?" the writer exclaimed. "Would anyone in their right mind believe that Islam would tolerate such a crime?" Following the logic of this fatwa, the person who takes the bribe should also be exonerated if their salary is too low, and thieves will be justified in stealing if they are poor.
* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi