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Islamists, remnants of ex-regime make last-minute presidential bid

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By Heba Fahmy

CAIRO: Islamists and remnants of the former regime (commonly known as felool) rushed to register their candidacy for Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election.

Registration for the presidential election began April 8 and closed Sunday at 2 pm as frontrunners faced with uncertainties regarding their applications due to legal challenges.

The committee supervising the election will review applications and examine any legal issues from April 13-15 before issuing a final list of candidates. Those disqualified will have 48 hours to appeal.

From the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Mursi submitted his application on Sunday as a backup candidate to the MB’s former deputy supreme guide Khairat Al-Shater.

Mursi entered the headquarters of the Presidential Electoral Committee (PEC) and left through the back door without giving any press statements, according to the Middle East News Agency (MENA).

The FJP issued a statement stressing that the legal stance of El-Shater was sound. However, they added, there are attempts to create obstacles to hinder the nomination of some candidates, “in a bid to abort the revolution and reproduce the old regime.”

Khalil Al-Anani, a scholar at the School of Government and International Affairs in Durham University and an expert on Islamist politics and Middle East affairs, said the move will further tarnish the image of the group, which is “hungry for power.”

“This shows that the group is looking out for interests that go beyond a specific presidential candidate,” Al-Anani told Daily News Egypt.

Backup candidates are in line with the group’s tradition, he added, citing the parliamentary elections.

El-Shater was sentenced to prison six times and faced several military trials for funding the formerly banned Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

His last arrest was in 2006 along with 40 other Brotherhood leaders and businessmen. A civilian court found them innocent and ordered their release three times. However, in February 2007, Mubarak referred them to military court and El-Shater was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released on March 3 by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after Mubarak’s ouster.

In a case similar to El-Shater’s, presidential hopeful and head of Ghad El-Thawra Party Ayman Nour faced legal difficulties that may become an obstacle to his presidential bid.

The Administrative Court issued a verdict on Saturday, depriving Nour of practicing politics despite having received an official pardon from SCAF for his previous conviction for forging Al-Ghad Party proxies.

The Criminal Court had sentenced him to five years in prison shortly following the 2005 presidential election, in a case widely perceived as politically motivated. Nour came a distant second to Mubarak in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election.

The court said that anyone who has a previous conviction will not be allowed to practice politics for six years after receiving a pardon, or completing his sentence. This verdict would prevent Nour from running in the presidential election, slated for May 23-24.

However, Nour will appeal the verdict.

Deputy dean of the faculty of law at Cairo University, Anas Gaafar said El-Shater’s situation was vague, and it is unclear whether he received a full pardon from SCAF or the People’s Assembly (PA).

According to Gaafar, only the PA has the authority to give a full pardon to a political detainee or SCAF as the country’s sole authority before the PA was elected.

“Both SCAF and the Brotherhood are keeping their mouths shut on this issue,” he told DNE.

Ayman El-Sayed, vice president of the State Litigation Authority, said Saturday on a show aired on the FJP’s official TV station that Nour’s legal stance was completely different from El-Shater’s.

He explained that El-Shater received a full pardon from the military rulers along with other political detainees, wiping his slate clean and allowing him to compete in the presidential race.

Dual citizen

Meanwhile, Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail may also be disqualified after information surfaced regarding his late mother’s US citizenship.

The PEC said Saturday that it received an official memo from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirming that Abu Ismail’s mother does in fact hold the US nationality, according to Reuters.

The law stipulates that presidential candidates provide documents to prove that they are born to Egyptian parents, do not hold another nationality and are not married to a non-Egyptian.

However Abu Ismail insisted that this was a “conspiracy,” to bring down the “Islamic movement,” during a speech in Asad Ibn EL Forat Mosque on Saturday.

SCAF wants to eliminate Islamists from the scene, he added, to make way for a candidate it backs from the former regime.

The Salafi candidate filed a complaint against the Interior Ministry for refusing to disclose documents regarding his mother’s nationality. The trial is set to begin April 10.

On Friday, Abu Ismail’s supporters flocked to Tahrir Square in support of the hardline Islamist candidate.

Presidential lineup

Mubarak’s ex-deputy and former chief of Egyptian Intelligence Omar Suleiman, outspoken lawyer and Mubarak supporter Mortada Mansour, and labor lawyer Khaled Ali also submitted their candidacy documents on Sunday before registration closed.

Mansour represents the Masr El-Qawmy Party, and was surrounded by a small group of supporters as he submitted his documents.

Suleiman was also surrounded by a large number of supporters and, according to MENA, a State Security officer and some of his supporters suffered mild injuries due to pushing and shoving in the crowd.

Al-Anani said that if Suleiman wins the top post, he would create an authoritarian, autocratic rule no different from Mubarak’s, which may radicalize young Egyptians, pushing them towards Islamist groups who will represent the opposition.

Others affiliated with the former regime presented their candidacy applications for the presidential election earlier, including former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and Mubarak’s former foreign minister and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

The only woman to announce a bid in Egypt’s presidential election, Bothaina Kamel announced at a press conference that she had failed to gather the required 30,000 voter signatures that are necessary to register for candidacy, according to AFP.

Kamel told reporters she would “continue to work to develop the political conscience of the Egyptian people,” AFP reported.

Many believe that SCAF will back a candidate from the former regime to guarantee the independence of its budget and assert it place under the new president.

Al-Anani disagreed, saying that SCAF will not sacrifice its image to back someone from the former regime, as it was pleased with “the fragmentation of the Islamic bloc.”

“Any presidential candidate will have to bargain with the military council regardless of who it is…this is the de facto of SCAF who have the real power now on the political scene,” he said.

The political arm of the Salafi Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya said Saturday in a statement that it will field Islamic scholar and preacher Safwat Hegazy as a backup candidate for Abu Ismail.

However, later on Sunday, Hegazy withdrew from competing in the presidential race, speaking in front of the PEC headquarters.

He said Islamist and liberal candidates will agree unanimously on one candidate to represent them after registration closes, and the remaining candidates will drop out.

Al-Anani expects Salafis to back El-Shater if Abu Ismail is disqualified.

“This goes beyond voting for a specific Islamic candidate, it’s about voting for the Islamic project itself,” he said.

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