Following Egypt’s presidential race with its twists and turns over the past 10 days has become no less breathtaking than watching epic and action movies on MBC and the local Panorama Action.
Every day, literally, brings something new.
The surprises started with press reports that the mother of front-runner Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafist, had American nationality, an official hurdle to his candidacy under the presidential election law.
Amidst that rumor, which made the rounds and became the talk of the hour, Abu Ismail made quite a showing the day he submitted his candidacy documents to the Presidential Election Commission.
Thousands of his supporters brought one of Cairo’s main highways to a complete standstill for long hours on March 30 as they marched to the Commission’s headquarters.
While the law requires either 30 endorsements from lawmakers or 30,000 citizens from at least 15 governorates, Abu Ismail submitted 40 parliamentary endorsements and nearly 160,000 public ones.
Another major surprise came only a day latter with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ground-shaking decision to contest the presidential elections.
Though the group, which controls the parliament and the constitution-drafting commission, had repeatedly assured the public neither to run nor support an Islamist, it suddenly changed heart and fielded its deputy leader Khairat al-Shater.
Four days later on April 5, the Election Commission issued a statement saying that the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Authority had confirmed that Abu Ismail’s mother was American.
The next day, tens of thousands of Abu Ismail supporters converged on Tahrir Square, the iconic symbol of the January 25 revolution, denouncing a “conspiracy” against their candidate and threatening to put up a fight.
Some of the die-hard supporters clashed with liberal demonstrators who were already in Tahrir protesting the Islamists’ control over the constitution-drafting commission.
But the day refused to end without a major surprise.
Omar Suleiman, ousted Hosni Mubarak’s vice president and long-time intelligence chief, issued a statement confirming that he would contest the presidential election.
This came hours after hundreds of his supporters staged a demonstration and marched to his house asking him to run.
The announcement was a major surprise to the public because it came only two days after the former Mubarak strongman had issued a statement saying he would not run.
The next day, April 7, Egyptians were still in for several more surprises.
The Election Commission announced receiving two official documents from the U.S. government confirming that Abu Ismail’s mother was granted American citizenship back in 2006.
Another surprise came after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announcement on the nomination of its chairman Mohammad Morsi for the presidential race.
The party described the decision as a precautionary measure in case the Election Commission decided to disqualify Shater, adding that Morsi would withdraw from the race if Shater was accepted.
In an unexpected move, the Administrative Court ruled later the same day against allowing Ayman Nour, a long-time critic who ran against Mubarak in the last presidential election, from running for the most-coveted office.
Nour, like Shater, was recently issued an official pardon by the ruling Supreme Military Council from earlier jail sentences in cases cooked up by the Mubarak regime on political grounds.
But many legal experts had expected the pair to be disqualified from the presidential race, which seems to explain the FJP’s nomination of Morsi as a possible replacement for Shater.
Also Saturday, the Salafist Al-Nour Party, which controls a fourth of the parliament seats, decided to field a candidate in the presidential election, though it was widely expected to back Shater.
Three more people, including one who had withdrawn days ago in favor of Shater, said they would submit their applications on April 8, the last day for submissions.
Surprises are also expected when the Election Commission announces the final list of official presidential contenders later this week, and even after that.
(Ayman Qenawi is a writer and editor based in Cairo.)