By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Scuffles broke out between supporters of Islamist presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and protesters denouncing the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the constitution as both groups took over Tahrir Square Friday.
By late afternoon the confrontations led to Abu Ismail’s supporters taking down the stage set up by the other group that demonstrated for a more inclusive constitution.
When a march of tens of thousands of Abu Ismail’s supporters reached Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Jan 25 revolution, an Al-Azhar sheikh along with a few hundred protesters demanding a constitution that represents all factions of society, strongly deplored supporters of Abu Ismail.
Al-Azhar had pulled out from the Assembly, along with representatives of the Coptic Church and other institution. Over 20 elected members have withdrawn to object the domination of the top two Islamist parties.
“They are supporters of one person, we are supporting the case of a nation,” the sheikh said. “Those are only associated to Islam not Islamists,” he said referring to Abu Ismail’s supporters who were chanting “The people want to apply God’s law.”
Similar statements caused tension and provoked crowds of Abu Ismail’s supporters leading them to verbally attack other protesters.
“This is a farce, we should think of the constitution first before presidential elections. They started the attacks,” said one of the protesters who demanded a constitution that represent all Egyptians.
Members of the protest against the Constituent Assembly tried to settle the scuffles by reminding all protesters that they are defending the freedom martyrs of the revolution gave them.
“The sheikh who talked before doesn’t represent Al-Azhar. All Azhar scholars want to apply God’s law,” said another sheikh protesting against the Constituent Assembly.
This statement calmed down Abu Ismail’s supporters who then returned to their own stage set up in Tahrir Square.
Abu Ismail’s supporters flocked from Ramses Square to Tahrir to announce their support to the hardline Islamist candidate against what they described as manipulation of official papers to exclude him from the presidential race.
The Presidential Electoral Committee announced Thursday that it received a report from the Immigration and Nationality Authority stating that the deceased mother of Abu Ismail carried an American passport.
The statement added in its report to the PEC that Abu Ismail’s mother has used the passport three times to travel to and from Egypt in 2008 and 2009.
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.
Abu Ismail, however, strongly denied what he described as a plot against him saying there is no doubt about his legal stance as a candidate.
“There is a conspiracy hatched against me by various entities to prevent my candidacy for presidency which is something that I will face with full force,” he said in a statement on his official Facebook page.
The statement added that there is plan to eliminate all Islamist candidates, not only Abu Ismail.
“There are talks that [Abdel Moneim] Abol Fotoh has a Qatari passport and that they didn’t issue a full pardon to [Khairat] Al-Shater in order to exclude him as well.”
Supporters of Abu Ismail blamed internal and external bodies, accusing them of being the mastermind behind “the conspiracy.”
“The United States and the military council do not want a popular Islamist president,” said Mohamed Ahmed, a student who participated in the massive march.
Hany Gamal, a Salafi protester, said that the interior ministry is plotting against Abu Ismail’s nomination. “They forged these papers. However, Field Marshal [Hussein Tantawy] is the one who would benefit from this. He wants a military president or one who is affiliated to the toppled regime,” he said.
Abu Ismail’s supporters are a mix of those who ascribe to the ultraconservative interpretation of Islam he preaches and others who were attracted to his strong anti-military council rhetoric.
Salah Mostafa, another supporter, said that the military council would benefit from such plot because Abu Ismail was the first Islamist to say no to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and to criticize them.
Protesters chanted “Death sentence to the Field Marshal, if a forgery was proven.”
Abu Ismail added that he had filed a lawsuit that would be considered next week regarding the issue of the nationality of his mother.
A lawyer was sent to the United States to bring all the papers that legitimize his position, he added, as well as to inquire about the papers in both the Egyptian foreign and interior ministries.
If Abu Ismail’s mother was proven to have held a dual nationality, some of his supporters said he should come clean. “But it should be the truth, he should not compromise; he should stand tall in front of this conspiracy,” Gamal said.