The Presidential Election Committee jolted the Egyptian political scene on Saturday when it disqualified 10 hopefuls, including front-runners Khairat al-Shater, of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hazim Abu Ismail, a very popular Salafist, and Omar Suleiman, a former vice president and intelligence chief.
Each of the 10 has been given two days to challenge the reasons for his disqualification, which have been made public by the Committee.
The final decision, due Tuesday, is most likely to be the disqualification since many experts had anticipated the move and expounded its legal reasoning in recent days.
The announcement has left many, many, Egyptians relieved, especially regarding the disqualification of Suleiman, ousted Hosni Mubarak’s vice president and long-time intelligence chief.
Suleiman, whose dramatic re-emergence after 14-months of absence since the Jan. 25 revolution shocked the country, failed to get at least 1,000 popular endorsements from at least 15 governorates, though he collected the required total of 30,000 endorsements.
The disqualifications shift the focus back to the success chances of the remaining candidates.
The main front-runners now are Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary general and a former foreign minister, Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, an independent moderate Islamist, and Mohammed Morsi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) who was fielded as a substitute in case Shater was disqualified.
Moussa, who is very popular in the countryside and among poor and less educated Egyptians, is likely to garner the biggest share of votes in the first round of the presidential elections, slated for May 23-24.
Conservative votes, which gave Islamists control over parliament in the legislative polls, will be divided among Abul Fotouh, Morsi and Mohammed Selim al-Awa, another highly-respected but less popular Islamist.
Liberal and secular votes will likely go to independent leftists Hamdeen Sabbahi and Khaled Ali.
Revolutionaries will split their votes among Abul Fotouh, Sabbahi and Ali, all leading figures of the Jan. 25 revolution.
With Moussa cruising comfortably in the lead, Abul Fotouh is more likely to elbow Morsi into the run-off.
Though Morsi can count on the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the same does not apply for the votes of its close circles and sympathizers, many of them would prefer the more moderate and charismatic Abul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader.
Abul Fotouh will also have his share of the niche of Christian votes, which were expected to go to now disqualified Suleiman.
Despite the relatively tough ride in the first round, Abul Fotouh can easily knock down Moussa in any one-on-one battle.
While Moussa will hold on to the same votes he got in the first round, his opponent will command all the votes that had been scattered earlier.
All Islamists and conservatives, a very big voting bloc when united, will go to Abul Fotouh.
Even Salafists, who might not see him as a favorite candidate, will never vote for Moussa, a candidate they see only as a wine-drinking liberal.
As for revolutionaries, it would be almost unimaginable for any of them to favor a former Mubarak foreign minister over a leading figure of their revolution.
So, get ready President Abul Fotouh to hit the ground running.
(Ayman Qenawi is a writer and editor based in Cairo.)