Despite ruling, Islamist presidential frontrunners' fate still in limbo

Ekram Ibrahim , Thursday 12 Apr 2012

It remains unclear until now whether Salafist preacher Hazem Abu-Ismail or Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater will be eligible to contest race for Egypt's presidency

Abu Ismail supporters outside the State Council building, Wednesday (Photo by: Ahram)
Abu Ismail supporters outside the State Council building, Wednesday (Photo by: Ahram)

After hours of waiting outside the State Council building in Cairo, hundreds of supporters of both Salafist preacher Hazem Abu-Ismail and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater returned home without a final verdict on the eligibility of their respective candidates to run in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential elections.

Supporters, meanwhile, are keeping their fingers crossed.

For the Salafist leader, the State Council issued a ruling calling upon the Ministry of Interior to issue a certificate showing that his mother never held anything but Egyptian nationality. This would allow him to contest the presidency unless the Ministry of Interior or US authorities present documentation proving otherwise.

Thousands of Abu-Ismail supporters celebrated the ruling – or lack thereof – on Wednesday night, calling it a "moral victory." Celebrations didn’t only appear before the State Council building, but also around different districts of Cairo.

"Where's the press?" supporters chanted. "The people want Hazem Abu-Ismail!"

Egypt's interior and foreign ministries – along with the US State Department – have stated that Abu-Ismail's mother obtained a US passport before her death. Abu-Ismail, however, denies the allegations and has demanded official evidence.

If the allegations are proven, he would likely be excluded from the presidential race, since Egyptian law stipulates that presidential candidates – and their parents – cannot hold foreign passports.  

The Salafist contender is the son of late high-profile Islamist figure Salah Abu-Ismail, who was a prominent Al-Azhar scholar, a longstanding parliamentarian and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abu-Ismail announced his bid for the presidency in May of last year and is currently considered an Islamist frontrunner in the 2012 race.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, presiding judges in the case at the Cairo Administrative Court recused themselves on Wednesday after being accused by El-Shater's lawyers of harbouring bias against their client.

Accordingly, the case is to be referred to different judges who will review the lawsuit challenging the legality of El-Shater's presidential bid. El-Shater was convicted of money laundering and "affiliation with a banned group" under the Mubarak regime.

The recent court decisions, however, are not considered the final word in either case.

According to Article 28 of the constitutional declaration, issued by the ruling military council last year and endorsed via popular referendum, decisions delivered by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) cannot be appealed.

What's more, according to the announced official schedule, a final list of approved presidential candidates will be released on 26 April. If the court fails to rule on the issue before this date, then the SPEC will issue a final verdict in the case– from which there can be no going back.

For this reason, the Muslim Brotherhood has also officially registered Mohamed Morsi, head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, as an alternate  candidate in the event that El-Shater is disqualified on legal grounds.

Political analyst Ibrahim El-Houdaiby divided current presidential candidates into three categories: "state-backed," including Omar Suleiman and Amr Moussa; "revolutionary," including Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh; and "reformist," including Abu-Ismail and El-Shater.

He went on to describe "reformist" candidates as those willing to institute only slight changes – not revolutionary ones. Therefore, since Abul-Fotouh is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, El-Houdaiby expects the majority of supporters of the two Islamist candidates to support him.

"While the scene remains ambiguous, I expect that, if these reformist candidates are removed from the race, election results will be greatly affected," El-Houdaiby told Ahram Online. 

However, if Morsi ends up running instead of El-Shater, El-Houdaiby believes that only Muslim Brotherhood members – and not all of them – would vote for him. "Morsi isn't as popular as El-Shater, so this would be a big mistake on the part of the Brotherhood," he said. 

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Abul Ezz El-Hariri – who filed the case challenging El-Shater's candidacy – has accused the Brotherhood of intentionally refusing to vote against Article 28 of the constitutional declaration. "The Brotherhood has effectively opened the door to electoral fraud," El-Hariri said.

El-Shater announced his presidential bid last week, after receiving a formal pardon from Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council and de facto president of the country.

The lawsuit challenging El-Shater's candidacy questions the legality of the pardon, asserting that El-Shater – imprisoned from 2007 to 2011 – should have submitted a formal request to a criminal court after receiving his pardon in order to participate in political life.

In 1992, El-Shater was imprisoned after being convicted on money-laundering charges. In 2007, El-Shater was again imprisoned for money laundering and funding the “student militias” of al Azhar Univeristy , a reference to the martial arts show that was performed by Azhar University students in December 2006

A final list of approved presidential candidates will be announced on April 26, to be followed by the election one month later on May 23 and 24. If no single candidate wins an outright majority, the two leading contenders will face each other in a runoff vote slated for June 16 and 17.

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