Election Commission to decide on appeals Filed by barred Presidential Candidates

Egypt’s election commission is expected to decide Tuesday which appeals will be reviewed, and a final list of presidential candidates will be released on April 26, just under a month before the landmark vote.

The election commission on Saturday barred 10 of the 23 registered candidates from the May 23-24 election, throwing into turmoil Egypt’s first presidential vote since last year’s uprising ousted U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

Ultraconservative Islamist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, the more mainstream Islamist Khairat al-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood, and former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman have filed appeals after they were knocked out of the race on legal grounds.

The United States on Monday voiced support for “free and fair” elections in Egypt but declined to wade into a debate over the disqualification of leading presidential candidates.

“Our only concern is that this is a free and fair and transparent process, that it move forward in a way that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

“But it’s not for us to comment on the political process itself,” he said, according to AFP.

The decision to disqualify some candidates — along with the possibility that the election commission might again be reversed on appeal — has injected massive uncertainty into Egypt’s first-ever freely contested presidential elections.

The commission has not given any reason for its decisions, and its disqualification of two of the top Islamist candidates has brought accusations that it might be manipulated by the country’s ruling military council, which has vowed to hand over powers after a president is elected.

Abu Ismail, a lawyer-turned-preacher with a devoted following, was reportedly barred from running because his late mother allegedly held dual American-Egyptian citizenship. Under a new Egyptian electoral law, the candidate, the candidate’s spouse or the candidate’s parents cannot hold any citizenship other than Egyptian.

Abu Ismail has questioned why the election commission has not made public the documents that allegedly prove his mother held U.S. citizenship.

“This is a political and legal scandal … We will stand up to injustice and tyranny and won’t ever accept an illegal and unconstitutional decision,” he said, emerging from the commission’s offices after going Monday to dispute his disqualification, The Associated Press reported.

His supporters chanted: “The military council and the U.S. are one hand,” echoing Abu Ismail’s claims that his disqualification was a conspiracy by domestic and foreign powers to deny him his bid for the country’s top job.

Al-Shater’s candidacy had been challenged because of his previous criminal record. He was imprisoned like many Brotherhood activists under the Mubarak regime, but was granted an amnesty this year. His lawyers say that this means he is allowed to run.

The biggest surprise in the round of disqualifications came when the military’s preferred candidate Omar Suleiman, who served as spy chief and vice president under Mubarak, was barred. He sent his assistant to file an appeal Sunday.

Suleiman’s campaign says he was disqualified because of a problem with collecting voter endorsements, which means he has little chance of winning an appeal since he cannot submit new signatures.

After the disqualifications, the front-runners are former regime officials such as former Arab League chief Amr Moussa as well as an expelled Brotherhood member, Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, seen as a reformist among Islamists.

The Brotherhood as well still has a candidate in the race. The movement a week ago nominated the chief of its political party, Mohammed Morsi, as a back-up for al-Shater, claiming that already there were “attempts to create barriers for some candidates.”

Despite their pledge to hand over power, the generals want the defense ministry and their budget out of civilian control. For this they would likely need a pliable candidate.

The generals also insist a new constitution be written before a new president is seated, a rushed timeframe that some fear may prolong their hold on power.

In a meeting Sunday, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces urged heads of political parties, including the Brotherhood, to finish writing the country’s constitution before the election of a new president.

The process for writing the constitution has similarly been thrown into turmoil, fueling doubts it can be finished quickly. A panel created by parliament is supposed to draw up the document. Last month, the Brotherhood and other Islamists, who hold 70 percent of parliament’s seats, formed a 100-member panel dominated by Islamists, provoking an outcry that they were trying to control the process.

A court suspended that panel, and now the military is mediating a new attempt to form a new one. The parliament must still vote on the final makeup.

Reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who pulled out from the presidential race saying it lacked transparency, said a constitution can’t be written in one month. ElBaradei, who has been a proponent of a longer transition that starts with writing the constitution, wrote on his Twitter account that “the travesty” of “bungled” transition continues.

“Now the military council wants the revolution’s constitution written in one month. Don’t belittle the importance of the constitution. Egypt deserves better than this.”