The race for the Egyptian presidency has been redefined by the disqualification of Hosni Mubarak’s spy chief and prominent Islamists, including a Muslim Brotherhood candidate and a popular Salafi cleric.
The developments add to the turbulence of a transition to democracy that has been punctuated by spasms of violence and political rivalries between once-banned Islamists, secular-minded reformists and remnants of the Mubarak order that was overthrown in last year’s popular uprising.
Winners from the drama include former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh. Both have spent longer on the campaign trail than most but were eclipsed by late comers to the race who were disqualified on Tuesday.
Omar Suleiman, one of Mubarak’s closest aides and his deputy in his last days in power, was ruled out of the race for failing to collect a sufficient number of signatures from 15 Egyptian governorates. Would-be presidential candidates must obtain 30,000 citizens’ signatures from across the country in support of their nominations.
A SPEC source on Sunday told Ahram Online that approximately half of Suleiman’s signature petitions had been forged
Proof that Mubarak is still in power
The losers include the Brotherhood, the biggest party in parliament which decided at the last moment to throw its hat into the ring but whose chances appear to have been undermined by the disqualification of its first choice candidate.
Khairat al-Shater, a millionaire businessman and the deputy Brotherhood leader, is now out of the picture, disqualified on the grounds of a criminal conviction passed down during Mubarak’s rule, when the group was banned.
The Brotherhood’s Twitter feed quoted Shater as saying “my exclusion from the presidential race despite sound legal case is a proof Mubarak is still in power. We shall continue in our peaceful struggle to complete our unfinished revolution.”
Later addressing hundreds of partisans in Cairo, Shater called on Egyptians to “protect the revolution,” warning that plans for electoral fraud and vote-buying were under way.
Shater promised “to topple the remains of the Mubarak regime,” according to AFP.
In his place, the group will field Mohammed Mursi, head of its political party who had filed the official paperwork to run just in case Shater was disqualified.
“The group and party announce they are continuing in the competition for the post of the head state with their candidate Dr. Mohammed Mursi,” the Brotherhood said in a statement, according to Reuters.
With the Brotherhood’s well-organized electoral machine behind him, Mursi immediately becomes a contender in the election that gets underway in May and is expected to go to a run-off in June.
But political analysts see the 60-year old engineer as a much weaker candidate than Shater.
Conspiracy and treason
A Salafi preacher, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, had hoped the same constituency would launch him into the presidency. But he too is now out of the vote, disqualified because his mother held a U.S. passport -- something he strongly denies.
Abu Ismail has warned that “Egypt will witness an Islamic revolution” if the commission does not allow him to run in the election. He called on his supporters to continue their sit-in at the headquarters of the Presidential Elections Commission.
Abu Ismail’s warning came in a speech delivered to his supporters, minutes before the commission issued its final decision, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reported late Tuesday.
Supporters of Abu Ismail had clashed on Tuesday evening with police forces tasked with securing the headquarters of the Presidential Elections Commission in the Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis.
Abu Ismail spoke to his supporters saying “I feel that what happening is conspiracy and treason.”
Abu Ismail’s campaign had festooned Egypt with his posters, generating both broad name recognition and questions over where his finance was coming from. Rivals alleged it may have been from like-minded conservatives in the Gulf.
With a Mursi candidacy, there are also greater chances of Brotherhood internal discipline breaking down and some of its votes going to Abul Fotouh. He was expelled from the group last year when he decided to launch his own presidential bid.
Abul Fotouh, 60, was part of a moderate reform wing in the Brotherhood until his expulsion. His candidacy has won the approval of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar who is influential in the Brotherhood and beyond.
A medical doctor, Abul Fotouh has also started to win support outside the Islamist movement among secular-minded Egyptians looking for someone committed to democratic reform.
Secular-minded voters might favor Moussa
Meanwhile, Moussa, who describes himself as a liberal nationalist, is also likely to win votes among secular-minded Egyptians worried about the dramatic gains made by Islamists in the year since Mubarak was toppled.
The 75-year old, a former Egyptian foreign minister, has also move squarely back to the heart of the race thanks to Tuesday’s disqualifications.
Moussa’s campaign had to contend with the last-minute entry to the race of Omar Suleiman, Mubarak former intelligence chief who seemed likely to erode some of Moussa’s support base.
Moussa is due to launch his campaign manifesto on Wednesday in a slum on the outskirts of Cairo.
“The disqualifications...are certainly to the benefit of Amr Moussa and Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh who were listed as front-runners before the sudden and last minute entrances of Suleiman and shatter to the race,” Mustapha al-Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Reuters.
The latest developments in the presidential campaign further complicate the transition to democracy after the ouster last year of former president Mubarak.
They come a week after a Cairo court suspended the Islamist-dominated commission tasked with drafting a new constitution amid a boycott by liberals, moderate Muslims and the Coptic church, according to AFP.
The panel, which is evenly divided between parliamentarians and public figures, was elected by the parliament.
But most of its members were from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist fundamentalists who hold the majority in both houses of parliament.
The secular parties had already withdrawn from the commission, believing their presence was only used as a smoke screen allowing the Islamists to draft a basic law reflecting their ideologies.
The prestigious Sunni Islamic institution, al-Azhar, and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt have also boycotted the panel.
The secularists want a more balanced commission, fearing the Islamist grip would lead to the strengthening of a demand for Islamic sharia law to be the point of reference for legislation.
In principle, the panel has up to six months to draft a new constitution to replace the one suspended by the military when it took power last year.
The election is scheduled for May 23 and 24, raising fears among many of having to elect a president whose powers have not been defined.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)