Egypt’s Islamists Rush to Field Presidential Candidates
Egypt’s most powerful political party entered its chief as an alternate candidate in the May presidential race, a “precaution” against what it described as apparent attempts to restore the ousted regime.
Lawyers for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which holds nearly half the seats in parliament’s lower house, submitted the nomination papers for Mohamed Mursi hours before the door for nominations was set to close for the May election, state-run Nile News reported today. The vote pits Islamist candidates against a number of secular figures including Omar Suleiman, one of the most senior figures in former President Hosni Mubarak’s government.
Mursi’s nomination was a response to “rapid developments that point to attempts being made to fabricate barriers and hurdles” to impede some candidates from competing in the election, the party said in a statement posted on its website. It said apparent efforts to disqualify some candidates were an attempt to recreate “the former regime, with the same old symbols, figures and structures.”
The entry of Suleiman, Mubarak’s long-time intelligence chief, shakes up a race seen by many as pitting the Islamists against former regime officials and the country’s ruling military council as Egypt struggles to recover from an uprising that has battered its economy.
Net international reserves fell by over 50 percent in just 15 months and economic growth slowed to 0.4 percent in the last quarter of 2011. A $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan is still pending amid criticism from the Brotherhood and other groups over the government’s economic program. The IMF has said it wants consensus among Egypt’s main political groups before it concludes the deal.
Suleiman, who also served as vice president in the regime’s final weeks, reversed an earlier decision, saying he was moved to run after hundreds of his followers took to the streets over the weekend, rallying for his return. MENA reported that he picked up his nomination papers yesterday.
His candidacy was met with mixed reviews, with Islamists and some youth groups who were a driving force in last year’s uprising decrying it as an attempt to reinstate the old regime. Others said Suleiman may appeal to Egyptians weary of the deteriorating security situation in the country and the Brotherhood’s attempts to jostle for power in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
‘Sense of Concern’
Suleiman could win with votes from a large segment of the Egyptian populace as there is a “broad sense of concern” in the country about the Brotherhood’s domination, Anwar Esmat el- Sadat, the head of the Islah, or Reform, party, was cited as saying by the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper today. Egypt needs a president with a military background to restore security and the country’s prestige, he said.
Islamist candidates are grappling with a number of legal challenges that have raised questions about their chances of competing in the election.
The Brotherhood’s first choice was millionaire businessman Khairat el-Shater, the group’s deputy head and chief financier. Reports later surfaced that he may be deemed ineligible to run, even as the group repeatedly said that he faced no legal obstacles.
Questions again surfaced after a Cairo administrative court ruled that Ayman Nour, the head of the al-Ghad party, was ineligible to run, the official Middle East News Agency reported yesterday. Nour had been Mubarak’s sole challenger in the 2005 elections, and was subsequently jailed. He had been recently pardoned by Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
Separately, Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail may also be out of the running after Egypt’s election commission said it had received confirmation that his mother had been granted U.S. citizenship. Abu Ismail’s mother got her American citizenship in October 2006, the commission’s secretary general Hatem Bagato said in a telephone interview yesterday, citing a letter from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Under Egyptian law, a candidate is ineligible to be president if either they or their parents hold or have held another nationality.
Abu Ismail has disputed the claim, saying in a news conference aired late yesterday on Al Jazeera Mubashir that the reports were part of a plot to discredit him. He didn’t deny that his mother, who is deceased, had held a U.S. passport, but said that “having a passport is one thing, and having citizenship is another.”
As the dispute over the two leading Islamist candidates continued, al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group -- which had waged a violent battle against Mubarak’s regime in the 1990s -- said it was fielding fundamentalist cleric Safwat Hegazy, also as a precautionary move.
The election commission will notify those who failed to qualify on April 12 and 13, and they will have the right to appeal, the official Middle East News Agency has reported. The first round of voting will occur May 23 and 24, with a second round in June if needed.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org
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