Egypt Brotherhood candidate: army wants to retain power

Egyptian military police (L) take their position as supporters of Egyptian Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail (on posters), take part in a sit-in in front of the building of the High Presidential Election Committee in Cairo on 17 April 2012. (Photo: AFP - Khaled Desouki)

Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Updated 3:42pm: The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate who was disqualified from Egypt's first presidential race since Hosni Mubarak's ouster said on Wednesday that the ruling army council was not serious about transferring power to civilians.

"The military council does not have the serious intention to transfer power," Khairat al-Shater, a millionaire businessman and top Brotherhood official, said after he was pushed out of the race by the election committee because of a criminal conviction during Mubarak's rule when the group was banned.

In his place, the Brotherhood will field Mohamed Mursi, head of its political party who had filed the official paperwork to run just in case Shater was disqualified.

The electoral commission confirmed on Tuesday that 10 candidates have been barred, rejecting challenges by Shater, another Islamist and the old regime's spy chief.

The commission had held a day-long meeting Tuesday to hear appeals from disqualified candidates, including former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and popular Salafist politician Hazem Abu Ismail.

Among the candidates still able to run are former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a one-time member of the powerful Brotherhood.

"It's a very important decision because it eliminates the most controversial candidates," said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

It is expected that those who would have voted for Suleiman would support Moussa, and Islamists may back Abul Fotouh.

But with the only Salafi candidate out of the race, "there is fear of reactions from the Abu Ismail supporters, who are not very disciplined," said Sayyed.

Abu Ismail supporters spent the night in protest outside the electoral commission.

The commission said Saturday it had rejected the candidacy of the 10 due to irregularities in their applications.

Although expected in some quarters, the news of the decision threw the presidential campaign into turmoil as the fate of a new constitution remains hanging in limbo.

The Muslim Brotherhood had anticipated the decision by putting up Mursi, chairman of the movement's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), as an "alternative" candidate and whose application has been approved.

Shater, who was in jail last year on charges of terrorism and money laundering, was barred because of a law stating candidates can only run in elections six years after being released or pardoned.

The Brotherhood's Twitter feed quoted Shater as saying "my exclusion from the presidential race despite a 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 – a wealthy businessman – called on Egyptians to "protect the revolution," warning that plans for electoral fraud and vote-buying were under way.

He promised "to topple the remains of the Mubarak regime."

Suleiman was disqualified because he failed to garner enough endorsements from all 15 provinces as required under the law.

Abu Ismail is out of the race because his mother holds foreign nationality, violating election rules which state that all candidates, their parents, and their wives must have only Egyptian citizenship.

The latest developments in the presidential campaign further complicate the transition to democracy after the ouster last year of former dictator 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.

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 Salafi 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 while 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.

Islamists believe the commission should reflect the composition of a parliament where the FJP holds nearly half the seats and the Salafi Al-Nour party almost one quarter.

The secularists want a more balanced commission, fearing the Islamist grip would lead to the strengthening of a demand for Islamic 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.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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