Senior sheikhs associated with Egypt's "Salafist Calling" in the coastal town of Mersa Matrouh refused to attend Friday's demonstration in support of disqualified Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail.
Abu-Ismail supporters had issued online calls to stage protests following Friday prayer to voice their opposition to a recent decision by Egypt's Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) to disqualify Abu-Ismail from next month's presidential race because his late mother had allegedly held US citizenship. According to Egyptian law, presidential candidates – and their parents – cannot hold foreign nationalities.
In anticipation of the planned demonstrations, police and military forces in Mersa Matrouh had stepped up security outside government buildings, the local security directorate and police stations.
Supporters of disqualified candidates reacted angrily to the decision, which has thrown Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential poll into uncertainty.
Immediately following the decision, Abu-Ismail addressed thousands of supporters who had gathered outside the SPEC building in Cairo's Heliopolis district. The popular Salafist preacher accused the commission of lying, treason and attempting to "divide the country."
His supporters marched from Heliopolis to Cairo's Tahrir Square to condemn the decision, Egypt's ruling military council and council head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Many of them vowed to stage a sit-in in the square to protest the move.
Abu-Ismail supporters also vented their anger on social-media venues, slamming SPEC members as lackeys of the former regime.
They also turned their anger on the Salafist Nour Party, following statements by party spokesman Nader Bakr, in which he stated that the party would not protest in solidarity with Abu-Ismail.
On 4 April, Abu-Ismail filed a lawsuit with Egypt's State Council against SPEC head Abdel-Moez Ibrahim and Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, demanding that the ministry issue a certificate verifying that his mother did not hold dual citizenship. Egypt's interior and foreign ministries, along with the US State Department, have all stated that Abu-Ismail's mother had acquired a US passport before she died.
Abu-Ismail, for his part, denies allegations that his mother held US citizenship, and has demanded that official documentation be presented to prove the allegations.
Pursuant to Article 28 of the constitutional declaration – issued by the ruling military council in March of last year and approved via popular referendum – the SPEC is not subject to judicial authority. This means that the body is not legally bound by any court rulings and is solely responsible for all its decisions, including the disqualification of presidential candidates.
The popular Salafist preacher is the son of late high-profile Islamist figure Salah Abu-Ismail, who was a prominent Al-Azhar scholar, a longstanding member of Egypt's parliament and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abu-Ismail, who first announced his bid for the presidency in May of last year, had been considered a presidential frontrunner before his disqualification.