Salafist Abu Ismail Supporters March In Tahrir

Thousands of backers of Salafi Egyptian presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail gathered today in Cairo amid concern he may be disqualified if reports that his mother held U.S. citizenship are confirmed.

The elections commission said yesterday that it received a letter from the passports and citizenship authority saying Abu Ismail’s mother used an American passport on three occasions to enter and leave the country. Under Egyptian law, a candidate is ineligible for the top office if either they or their parents hold or had held another nationality. Abu Ismail has repeatedly denied that his mother held U.S. citizenship.

Abu Ismail’s disqualification would be a boost for the Muslim Brotherhood’s nominee, Khairat el-Shater. The millionaire businessman served as the second-in-command for the Brotherhood, whose political arm holds nearly 50 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament. Salafis follow a stricter interpretation of Islam than the Brotherhood.

“The people want Hazem Abu Ismail,” in the capital’s Tahrir Square, according to footage shown on the private Egyptian satellite channel ON TV. “Field Marshal, we won’t allow rigging,” they shouted, referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the military ruler, and the perceived attempt to maneuver the candidate out of the race.

The election commission is still awaiting confirmation from the Foreign Ministry, which is inquiring about the citizenship of Abu Ismail’s mother from U.S. officials, the commission’s secretary-general, Hatem Bagato, said. The final list of qualified candidates will be announced on April 26, he said. The commission has accepted the completed applications from 13 hopefuls so far, including Abu Ismail.

 The Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate, reversing an earlier pledge to stay out the May vote, has ratcheted up tensions in the first presidential election since last year’s ouster of Hosni Mubarak. It also sparked criticism from secular groups that the Brotherhood is seeking to monopolize power.

El-Shater was nominated because “the government is ruining Egypt,” said Saad el-Husseini, a lawmaker with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “This decision was made to serve the interests of Egypt and not personal interests.”

The registration of candidates comes at a time when wrangling between the ruling military council, the Brotherhood and other groups vying to shape the country’s future is stifling efforts to revive the economy, Bloomberg reported.