Egyptian court clears way for Salafi presidential candidate in election race

Supporters of Egyptian Salafi presidential candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail, protest against what they say is an orchestrated attack against his campaign that was seeking to prevent him from contesting in the race. (Reuters)

An Egyptian court has ruled that the mother of a popular ultraconservative Islamist viewed as one of the strongest contenders for president is not a U.S. citizen, likely clearing the way for him to run in May elections.

Hazem Abu Ismail is a 50-year-old lawyer-turned-preacher with a large following of enthusiastic supporters, particularly from the country's ultraconservative Salafi movement.

The country’s electoral commission last week said it received documents confirming that Ismail's mother was an American citizen, effectively disqualifying him from the race.

“On Saturday, the high electoral committee received a letter from the Foreign Ministry informing it that Nawal Abdel-Aziz, mother of Hazem Abu Ismail, obtained American nationality on Oct. 25, 2006,” the commission chief Hatem Degato told Reuters.

Begato said on Thursday that the agency had received information according to which Abu Ismail’s mother had “used an American passport for travel to and from Egypt” before her death.

But the Cairo Administrative Court on Wednesday said authorities did not have sufficient documents to prove she was a U.S. citizen.

Under the country’s electoral law, all candidates for the presidency, their parents and their wives must have only Egyptian citizenship.


Abu Ismail advocates a strict interpretation of Islam similar to the one practiced in Saudi Arabia and has become a familiar sight in Cairo, with his posters adorning many cars and micro buses.

“Our only demand is to cancel the negative decision of the refusal of the interior ministry to give [Abu Ismail] a certificate that his mother doesn’t hold dual citizenship,” said Gaber Nassar, Abu Ismail’s lawyer early on Wednesday before the ruling was announced, according to Daily News Egypt.

The session was adjourned repeatedly during the day as supporters of the Salafi candidate filled the court room and also demonstrated outside the State Council. It was the second hearing; the first was on Tuesday.

On Friday, thousands of people rallied in central Cairo in support of his candidacy.

“The people want Hazem Abu Ismail! No to manipulation!” the demonstrators shouted after making their way through central Cairo to Tahrir Square, epicenter of last year’s revolt which toppled president Hosni Mubarak.

The protesters, including women in full Islamic veil, carried portraits of Abu Ismail and waved their fists, angrily condemning any attempt to disqualify their candidate.

Abu Ismail launched his candidacy on March 30 with a large motorcade that took him to electoral commission headquarters in Cairo.

He would compete with more moderate Islamist candidates such as senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Khairat el-Shater and former regime figures such as ex-foreign minister Amr Mussa.

Islamists have made big strides since Mubarak’s ouster, winning majorities in elections to both houses of parliament.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won the most seats in parliamentary elections earlier this year, but the Salafists captured nearly a quarter themselves.

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