Campaign buttons with pictures of Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, a prominent Salafi, are displayed for sale in front of a mosque in Cairo (Photo: AP)
Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) announced Tuesday its final decision to disqualify ten candidates from the presidential race, including the Salafist Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Leader Khairat El-Shater and Mubarak's former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Supporters of the disqualified candidates reacted with anger and dismay to the decision, which threw into turmoil the country's first presidential election since the ouster of long-term president Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in February 2011.
Thousands of Abu-Ismail supporters who had gathered outside the SPEC building in Heliopolis, Cairo, reacted angrily to the decision.
Abu-Ismail had addressed them before the decision was announced and accused the commission of lying, treason and attempting to divide the country.
His supporters marched from Heliopolis to Tahrir Square to condemn the SPEC's decision, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and its leader Field Marshall Tantawi. The group announced it would begin a sit-in in the square to protest the exclusion of their favoured candidate.
The anger of Abu-Ismail’s supporters was vented on Facebook and Twitter where they slammed SPEC board members who were close to the former regime.
They also turned their anger on the Salafist Nour Party following the statement of its spokesman Nader Bakr.
“If we had known the Sheikh [Abu Ismail] was right, we would not have hesitated to defend him. We will tolerate all the insults and attacks until you know the truth later,” Bakr said on his official Twitter account, in a message many regarded as hinting at Abu-Ismail’s guilt.
Late Tuesday, Bakr told Dream TV 2 that the Nour Party opposed protesting for Abu-Ismail because it was against Salafist and Islamic principles.
Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Leader Khairat El-Shater was with his supporters in the Sharabia district of Cairo when the decision was announced.
Within an hour of the announcement, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had announced via Twitter that Dr Mohamed Morsi, the party's chairman, would replace El-Shater as the group's official candidate.
A few hours later the Brotherhood and the FJP issued a joint statement condemning the SPEC's decision and confirming that Morsi would be the Brotherhood's official candidate.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP are astonished at the rejection of Khairat El-Shater's appeal and the decision to exclude him from the race despite the presentation of documents that prove he received a rehabilitation from the military court.”
The statement referred to legal reasons behind El-Shater's disqualified from the presidential race.
In 2007 El-Shater received a seven-year jail term for money laundering and belonging to a banned group. He was released after Egypt's revolution in March 2011 on health grounds. Technically, to be eligible to exercise political rights a convicted felon must first obtain a rehabilitation ruling which can only be granted six years after the person has been released after serving his or her full sentence.
El-Shater's lawyer argued that his client received a full pardon from the SCAF and therefore the rehabilitation ruling does not apply to him. For reasons that are still unclear the pardon was kept secret.
El-Shater will hold a press conference to discuss the SPEC's decision on Wednesday.
Omar Suleiman's campaign manager Hussein El-Sharif refused to comment on the disqualification decision until he had read the official SPEC statement on Wednesday.
"I'm Sorry Mr President" the famous Pro-Mubarak Facebook page that had endorsement Omar Suleiman's presidential bid, issued a statement Tuesday night expressing its full respect for the commission's decision and wishing Suleiman all the best for the future.
Ghad El-Thawra party leader Ayman Nour, who was among the ten candidates disqualified from standing for president by the SPEC, said via Twitter that "The party will meet over the next few days to select a new candidate and we'll continue to petition against Article 28 of the presidential election law."
Nour published an op-ed on the Youm7 website titled ‘A message to my supporters’ in which he encouraged his followers to remain optimistic.
Two presidential candidates who remain in the race offered contrasting reactions to the SPEC's decision.
Leftist presidential candidate Abul-Ezz El-Hariri condemned Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail and his supporters for their ongoing protest against the SPEC’s decision.
Khaled Ali, the other leftist presidential candidate still in the race, told Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr that he had no doubt that Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail’s mother was Egyptian and therefore he would continue to defend him.
Ali, a prominent labour lawyer, last week defended Abu-Ismail in front of the Administrative Court.