CAIRO – In a move that could rechart the course of Egypt’s landmark presidential polls, the election commission late Saturday barred the top three candidates from the race for failing to meet eligibility criteria.
The former spy chief Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood financier Khairat el-Shater and the ultraconservative cleric Hazem Abu Ismail are among 10 disqualified candidates, the commission announced via state media. The men have 48 hours to appeal the decision; their supporters already are vowing mass demonstrations in protest.
According to the state-backed Al-Ahram newspaper, the High Elections Commission cited these reasons for the invalidations: A majority of Suleiman’s requisite endorsement signatories couldn’t be verified or had signed for other candidates, el-Shater’s pardon for an old money-laundering conviction didn’t cover his related ban from political life, and Foreign Ministry documents proved that Abu Ismail’s mother was a naturalized American. Candidates are required to have two Egyptian parents.
“We will report all the aforementioned violations to the prosecutor in order to take legal action,” the commission said in a statement.
Just six weeks from the opening of the presidential polls, the race is dogged by conspiracy theories, court challenges, huge demonstrations, accusations of fraud and even an Egyptian-style birther controversy. The military council is expected to meet with political leaders today to discuss the crisis.
The well-known blogger and revolutionary Mahmoud Salem, better known as Sandmonkey, compared the presidential race to an episode of the fantasy-adventure TV show “Lost” in a message on Twitter: “u don’t fully understand what’s going on at the time, but u are entertained & enjoying the twists.”
The ruling reinvigorates the candidacies of former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, the reform-minded Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Futouh, and the Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who were all eclipsed when the race turned into a three-way battle of the now-excluded front-runners.
The Brotherhood had anticipated this outcome and registered an alternative candidate, Mohamed Mursi, leader of its spinoff Freedom and Justice Party. Even so, the group would appeal the decision to exclude el-Shater, said Abdelmenem Abdelmaksoud, an attorney for the Brotherhood.
In an online statement, the Suleiman campaign, citing a senior consultant, said he would contest the decision and gather the necessary documents to meet the criteria within the 48-hour appeal period.
Abu Ismail, speaking by telephone late Saturday in an interview with the Islamist cable channel Hikma, also said he would appeal the decision first thing this morning. He also vowed retaliation against Egypt’s military rulers.
“I know of bribery cases involving top officials and I will have to expose them,” Abu Ismail warned in the interview.
In a further twist, another candidate disqualified under the ruling – the prominent attorney Mortada Mansour – was declared a fugitive. Egyptian authorities, via state media, said he’d gone on the run to escape charges holding him responsible for the so-called Battle of the Camels, one of the most violent of the 18 days of revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak’s regime in February 2011.
Mansour was barred from the race because his internally divided party had fielded a second candidate in violation of election rules.