Egypt’s election committee confirmed on Thursday that Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister would run in a presidential election, reversing its decision to eject him over a law drawn up by Islamists.
“After listening to Shafiq’s appeal, the committee decided to halt the decision to exclude him from the presidential race,” Farouk Soltan, the head of the election committee, told a news conference to announce the final list of candidates, listing Ahmed Shafiq among the 13 contenders.
Shafiq, a general and former civil aviation minister, had been named premier in the final days of Mubarak’s three-decade rule last year as he battled an 18-day popular uprising.
He is seen as a strong contender to win Egypt’s presidential elections set for May 23-24, with a run-off scheduled in June. His main rivals include two Islamists, Mohamed Mursi and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, and the former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
Meanwhile, Mubarak-era intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who briefly served as vice president, was also disqualified on the technical grounds that he failed to secure the statutory number of endorsements from all the country’s provinces.
The electoral commission is due to publish a definitive list of candidates on Thursday.
But Shafiq’s re-election has underscored the chronic confusion hanging over the elections.
Confusion over who can run for president underlines the fragility of a democratic transition in the Arab world’s most populous country and raises questions over the military’s willingness to give up power after the formal handover in July.
His re-entry could split the anti-Islamist vote, making it a tougher race for Amr Moussa, a liberal who was head of the Arab League, as well as a former foreign minister under Mubarak. Ministers were not among those targeted under the new law.
It will also anger Islamists and pro-democracy groups who fear Shafiq’s candidacy is a ploy by old regime figures who want to restore the tightly-controlled politics of the Mubarak era.
Islamists and other groups have called for a demonstration on Friday called “Saving the Revolution”, which is expected to focus anger at the army and those like Shafiq viewed as trying revive the political fortunes of Mubarak’s allies.
The electoral committee decided to refer the law that was used to disqualify Shafiq to the Supreme Constitutional Court to review its constitutionality.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said the committee must simply apply the law and its decision to bring back Shafiq had dealt a blow to its credibility.
“Its behavior is clearly characterized by confusion: today no, tomorrow, yes, and the truth is this shakes its status and its position as a neutral committee,” Ghozlan told Reuters. “It has a law and it is obliged to apply it and it is not its business to examine whether or not it is constitutional.”
The vote is set for May 23 and 24, with a run-off scheduled in June for the top two candidates. No one is expected to win more than 50 percent of the votes to win in the first round.
Some opinion polls have put Moussa in the lead, although that was in late March. Several candidates have emerged since then and some have been disqualified, including Mubarak’s former spy chief, as well as the first-choice Brotherhood candidate.
Other front-runners include the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, who had been held in reserve, and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an ex-Brotherhood member who is trying to project a broader appeal.
Shafiq said in February he would run for president because he had the experience to maintain good ties with the generals and ensure a smooth handover to civilian rule.
The 71-year-old, an ex-air force commander who was civil aviation minister for a decade, said he can bridge the divisions in Egypt. The country has been led by army officers since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952.