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Presidency poll on time.

Cairo street
Region: Egypt
Created: May 10, 2012, modified: May 09, 2012, overall rating: 5.000

The headquarters of the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) on the vital Salah Salem Road in Heliopolis remained under siege by hundreds of supporters of disqualified presidential hopeful Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail as Al-Ahram Weekly went to print Wednesday. PEC's senior judges issued a final ruling Tuesday evening that the man who followers describe as a "phenomenon" would not be able to run in Egypt's first ever effective multi-candidate presidential elections.

Abu Ismail, together with former General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy supreme guide, Khairat El-Shater, were the three most significant candidates, out of a list of 10, who were excluded by PEC from the presidential contest due in voting 23-24 May. After a stormy week full of rumors and expectations of a possible showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army generals in control of Egypt since the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the final list of contenders, to be officially announced by PEC 26 April, now includes only 13 candidates.

The PEC's decisions are final and cannot be appealed, according to the controversial Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), shortly after Mubarak's departure from power. Both the Brotherhood and secular political forces announced that repealing Article 28 would be one of the key demands raised in mass demonstrations planned for Tahrir Square tomorrow, Friday.

However, PEC's decision to exclude former spy chief Suleiman, because he fell 31 recommendations short of the number required (30,000 according to law) to back his application has taken a lot of steam out of Friday's expected protests. Suleiman's sudden announcement that he wanted to become Egypt's next president was considered an insult by all political forces who took part in the 25 January Revolution against Mubarak, as well as confirmation that the regime had not changed. Suleiman served as Mubarak's intelligence chief and right-hand man for nearly 20 years, and was famous for stating during the peak days of the January 2011 uprising that "Egyptians are not yet ready for democracy."

If the final list of 13 remains unchanged, experts and recent opinion polls indicate that competition will be toughest among four top candidates: former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa; moderate Islamist candidate and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh; the last prime minister Mubarak appointed before his removal, former Air Force chief Ahmed Shafik; and the so-called "reserve candidate" of the Muslim Brotherhood and leader of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Mursi.

The independent Arab nationalist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, leftist lawyer-activist Khaled Ali, and Islamist thinker and figure Mohamed Selim El-Awwa are also likely to put in a good campaign but are not expected to be among those likely to reach the second round run-off -- if needed -- on 16-17 June.

The charismatic Salafi Sheikh Abu Ismail, who holds very strict views on the implementation of Islamic Sharia and the role of women in society, has remained ambiguous over whether his late mother was an American citizen, but he has been pressing PEC judges, and Egyptian authorities, to prove this fact themselves by irrefutable evidence. In a message sent to his Internet followers, he said the papers PEC judges showed him Monday, mainly letters from the US State Department conveyed through the Egyptian embassy in Washington, "had no clear signature, no clear stamp or a cover letter. I told them [the judges] I wanted to see the cover letter." The director of Abu Ismail's campaign questioned why should Egypt "take official American papers for granted in the first place". "Are we going to obey American orders?"

The bizarre arguments made by Abu Ismail and his supporters drove PEC's judges, who include the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation and the High Court of Appeals, among others, to undertake extraordinary measures to prove they were not involved in any "conspiracy" against Abu Ismail. They invited popular Islamic religious figures belonging to the increasingly influential Salafist movement to show them personally the documents that allegedly prove Sheikh Abu Ismail's mother was granted US nationality. The sheikh was furious that his brothers in arms agreed to perform that role; especially after PEC judges barred him personally from joining them. He asked his supporters to remain in their positions, surrounding the PEC's headquarters, and threatened an open-ended Tahrir Square sit-in.

However, the loud noise and protests of Abu Ismail's supporters are likely to fade into the background as the official presidential election campaign starts at the end of this month. The key question that observers are likely to ask in the coming weeks is whether the country's largest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, will insist on keeping its own candidate in the race, FJP leader and parliament member Mohamed Mursi.

Political observers, including former director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Gamal Abdel-Gawad, have noted that the exclusion of Suleiman has helped in stemming an expected confrontation between SCAF and political forces that took part in the revolt against Mubarak. Nonetheless, convincing the Brotherhood to pull its candidate would also help in assuring a smooth transition to democratic civilian rule, Abdel-Gawad said.

The Brotherhood and the FJP, however, remain defiant and vowed to back Mursi for the presidency in a statement Tuesday. "We have a project to develop our nation in all fields, and our candidate Mohamed Mursi represents this project that is supported by the Egyptian people," the statement said.

El-Shater also told reporters in a news conference that he was worried that his exclusion implied that there were intentions to "steer the elections in favour of one candidate who belongs to the remnants of the former regime, and that it might witness rigging." In mass protests the Brotherhood held in Tahrir last Friday, slogans were chanted against Suleiman and Moussa equally, dubbing them Mubarak loyalists.

Meanwhile, SCAF member Major General Mamdouh Shahin, who deals with legal affairs, vehemently denied reports of plans to postpone the presidential elections. In a meeting held with the leaders of a dozen political parties and members of parliament Sunday, 15 April, SCAF head Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi stated that he preferred that an agreement would be reached first on the country's new constitution before presidential elections. Considering that this would leave one month only to finish what's supposed to be a difficult task, MP Mustafa Bakri, known for his close ties to SCAF, said he expected presidential elections would be postponed. That sent shockwaves across political circles, and many warned SCAF that this could result in disaster.

The process of drafting the new constitution will be another major test for the Muslim Brotherhood after its original formula for the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the constitution was knocked down by the Administrative Court in an important ruling last week. The Brotherhood used their majority in parliament, together with the Nour Party, to handpick at least 70 per cent of the 100 members of the assembly, alienating other political groups, particularly liberals and leftists. Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami Anan, and party leaders and MPs will meet again Sunday to discuss new measures for the formation of a new constituent assembly. (see pp.2-6 and Editorial p.16)

Source: weekly.ahram.org.eg

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