The event is described as the fruit of the revolution

The two front-runners in Egypt's presidential election have traded barbs in an unprecedented televised debate, framing this month's vote as a choice between an Islamist fundamentalist or a holdover from Hosni Mubarak's regime. Amr Mussa, a former Foreign Minister and Arab League chief, squared off with Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh for nearly four hours late into the night on Thursday.

Egypt's first-ever televised presidential debate came as polls suggest that Mr. Mussa and Mr. Abdul Fotouh are the leading contenders in the May 23-24 polls.

Eleven other candidates are competing which should mark the end of a tumultuous military-led transitional period since Mr. Mubarak's overthrow in February 2011.

A poll concluded at the end of April by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies shows Mr. Mussa ahead with 39 per cent while Mr. Abul Fotouh trails with 24 per cent. Other polls show them neck and neck.

The candidates answered questions from two popular television anchors on issues ranging from the traditional topics of health, employment and education.

But the debate took an increasingly bitter turn as they attacked each other's pasts, with Islamism, identity and affiliation to the former regime dominating the head-to-head.

The pair swapped sharp exchanges, as Mr. Mussa criticised his rival's past with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and Mr. Abul Fotouh accused Mr. Mussa of belonging to an oppressive and corrupt regime under Mr. Mubarak.

“You worked for the benefit of one group, the Muslim Brotherhood, not for Egypt as a nation,” Mr. Mussa told Mr. Abul Fotouh, who quit the once-banned group a year ago.

Mr. Abul Fotouh for his part repeatedly highlighted Mr. Mussa's connection to the Mubarak regime.

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