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Egypt Salafists Plan Rally If Presidential Candidate Barred

Supporters of Egyptian Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail said they will demonstrate in the coming week if the government fails to resolve a dispute about his mother’s citizenship that may block his candidacy.

Demonstrations would be held April 10 if an administrative court doesn’t order the interior and foreign ministers to disclose whether Abu Ismail’s mother held U.S. citizenship, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, citing a statement from his campaign. A gathering of thousands of his supporters yesterday was “a message that we wanted to send” to officials, Abu Ismail aide Gamal Saber said, MENA reported.

Abu Ismail ranked second with 23 percent support in a presidential poll by Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies published April 2. His absence from the race would probably benefit Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat el-Shater. The survey was conducted before the Brotherhood announced it was fielding a candidate.

Former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister Amre Moussa led the poll, with 32 percent support.

The controversy about the status Abu Ismail’s candidacy occurs as former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman yesterday entered the race, reversing a decision he’d announced earlier in the week, MENA reported.

Suleiman, named Hosni Mubarak’s vice president in the ousted ruler’s final weeks in power last year, said he was responding to the demands of supporters who organized a rally to get him to change his mind, MENA reported, citing a statement by Suleiman. Five people were injured during a gathering yesterday of Suleiman’s supporters, the news service said, citing Health Ministry official Hisham Sheiha.

Suleiman to Run

The elections commission said April 5 it received a letter from the passports and citizenship authority saying Abu Ismail’s mother used an American passport on three occasions to enter and leave the country.

Under Egyptian law, a candidate is ineligible for the top office if either they or their parents hold or had held another nationality. Abu Ismail has repeatedly denied that his mother held U.S. citizenship.

Abu Ismail’s disqualification would be a boost for the Muslim Brotherhood nominee El-Shater. The millionaire businessman served as the second-in-command for the Brotherhood, whose political arm holds almost 50 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament. Salafis follow a strict interpretation of Islam, while the Brotherhood has sought to cast a more moderate image.

Candidacy Deadline

The deadline for submitting candidacy papers for the presidential vote is Sunday, April 8. The 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 reported.

The election commission is still awaiting confirmation from Egypt’s foreign ministry, which is inquiring about the citizenship of Abu Ismail’s mother from U.S. officials, the commission’s secretary-general, Hatem Bagato, said by telephone yesterday. The final list of qualified candidates will be announced on April 26, he said.

The Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate, reversing an earlier pledge to stay out the May vote, has ratcheted up tensions in the first presidential election since last year’s ouster of Mubarak. It also sparked criticism from secular groups that the Brotherhood is seeking to monopolize power.

El-Shater was nominated because “the government is ruining Egypt,” said Saad el-Husseini, a lawmaker with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “This decision was made to serve the interests of Egypt and not personal interests.”

Economy Slumps

The registration of candidates comes at a time when wrangling between the ruling military council, the Brotherhood and other groups vying to shape the country’s future is stifling efforts to revive the economy.

Net international reserves fell to $15.1 billion at the end of March, down more than 50 percent since the start of the uprising that toppled Mubarak. 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.

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