Via NY Times, by David D. Kirkpatrick
CAIRO — Candidates in Egypt’s presidential race scrambled Sunday to find their footing in an increasingly slippery field as new questions emerged about whether Hosni Mubarak’s former spy chief would be allowed to compete.
A day after the presidential election commission knocked out of the race three of the five front-runners on various technical grounds — with just over a month until the voting begins — on Sunday it clarified that it had disqualified the former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, because he had fallen just 31 short of the 30,000 notarized statements of endorsements required to enter the race. It was unclear whether his campaign would be allowed to make up the difference.
The suspense about Mr. Suleiman’s eligibility added a combustible new element to the doubts about the credibility of the electoral process that were sown by the electoral commission’s sweeping decision on Saturday night to strike him from the race along with two leading Islamists, Khairat el-Shater, the leading strategist of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the standard-bearer for ultraconservative Islamists.
In a race dominated by Islamists on one side and the more secular former officials of the Mubarak government on the other, Saturday’s announcement had appeared at least evenhanded by tossing out the most polarizing contenders in both camps. But the potential return of Mr. Suleiman, 75, upends that balance. Instead, it returns the Islamist movements to the state of high anxiety set off by his last-minute entry into the race just one week ago. He was virtually Mr. Mubarak’s alter ego, frank about his view that Egypt was not ready for democracy, and outspokenly hostile to the Islamists now dominating Parliament and competing for the presidency.
Mr. Suleiman stands more clearly for a restoration of the old order than any other former Mubarak government official now re-entering politics. And he has deep ties to the intelligence services — his campaign manager is his former chief of staff in the spy service and has begun running the campaign from its headquarters — raising fears that its officials might revive Mubarak-era practices like bugging candidates’ offices and rigging elections.
His popularity is hard to measure, but his opponents fear that his law-and-order message could resonate with Egyptians frustrated by the political turmoil and economic pain that they have endured since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. Tens of thousands of Islamists demonstrated last Friday in downtown Cairo in opposition to Mr. Suleiman’s candidacy. Parliament rushed to pass legislation that would bar him from running, if Egypt’s current military rulers sign it and the measure survives a legal challenge.
In a statement reported by the state news media, the election commission said Sunday that Mr. Suleiman had failed to fulfill the requirement that a candidate obtain 2,000 notarized endorsements from each of 15 provinces. He fell 31 short in Asyut Province, the statement said.
Adding to the confusion, an English-language Web site run by the state news media cited unnamed sources in the commission who said — contradicting the public statement — that more than 10,000 of Mr. Suleiman’s required endorsements were invalid.
All three candidates said Sunday that they were filing appeals to the commission, which is expected to issue the final candidate list within days.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist group that now dominates Parliament, said Sunday that it was prepared to continue to compete in the campaign, even without its first nominee, Mr. Shater. While the group’s lawyers are contesting his disqualification — for a conviction in a Mubarak-era political trial — Mr. Shater said he was ready to endorse the group’s backup candidate, Mohamed el-Mursi, chairman of the Brotherhood’s political arm.
“We are ready and willing to pay an even greater price for liberation of this homeland,” Mr. Shater declared, in a campaign speech quoted in an official statement. “We will not enable the enemies of the revolution to abort it, even if we have to sacrifice thousands of martyrs again.”
In a clear reference to Mr. Suleiman, Mr. Shater warned that “certain hands target all Islamists in the hope of reproducing the former regime.” He added, “We have to confront the ‘enemy within,’ as well as international enemies, who seek to sow the seeds of sedition and strife between us and to vilify Islamists.”
Mr. Mursi, an engineer, resigned as a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee, known as its guidance council, to take over the chairmanship of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. He is a former member of Parliament.
Mr. Abu Ismail, the ultraconservative Islamist, was disqualified because his mother became a United States citizen before she died, which bars him from seeking the presidency under a law passed in the aftermath of Mr. Mubarak’s exit.
The disqualifications underscore the unintended consequences of Egypt’s byzantine electoral rules. Mr. Suleiman, a stalwart of the Mubarak government, was tripped up by cumbersome rules it put in place to discourage challenges to Mr. Mubarak.
Mr. Abu Ismail, on the other hand, was stymied by rules his fellow conservatives added to keep out liberals suspected of ties to the West.
Mayy El Sheikh and Omnia Desoukie contributed reporting.