Egypt’s election committee Tuesday upheld the ineligibility of all 10 candidates – including three front-runners – it had disqualified this weekend from the country’s long-awaited presidential race.

Among the contenders whose appeals were rejected are ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat al- Shater and the Salafi Islamist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the state-run Al- Ahram newspaper reported.

The commission said Saturday it had disqualified 10 of the 23 candidates who had applied to run in the election, which starts in May and is the climax of the transition from military to civilian rule. Those disqualified had 48 hours to appeal.

Suleiman, one of deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s closest aides and his deputy in his last days in power, had been ruled out because he had too few of the voter endorsements that candidates are required to present. The former intelligence chief was Mubarak’s go-to adviser on Israel, and widely viewed in the Israeli establishment as the race’s most favorable candidate from Jerusalem’s perspective.

Shater had been disqualified because of a past criminal conviction. Like many other Brotherhood leaders, Shater had spent time behind bars for his association with a group that was officially outlawed under the Mubarak administration.

Abu Ismail had been ruled out because his mother held US citizenship, and election rules bar candidates and their families from holding dual nationality.

The disqualifications leave three presidential candidates as front-runners: former Mubarak foreign minister and Arab League secretary Amr Moussa, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and the Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh.

Moussa is a populist whose strident nationalism – laced with anti-Western and anti- Israel rhetoric – make him popular among average Egyptians despite his associations with the former regime.

The Brotherhood announced Morsi, chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party, as its “backup candidate” earlier this month after the election committee first cited potential complications with Shater’s application. On Tuesday, the Brotherhood confirmed Morsi would run as its candidate once Shater’s ineligibility was definitively upheld.

Abol Fotouh was expelled from the Brotherhood last year after defying its initial orders to members not to run. The 84-year-old Islamist movement reversed that decision last month after parliamentary elections gave it 50 percent of seats in Egypt’s two chambers and 25% to even harder-line Salafis.

Al-Ahram reported that the committee also upheld its disqualification of Ayman Nour, a relative liberal who came a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 presidential ballot.

The election has a first round of voting on May 23 and 24, and is expected to go to a run-off in June between the top two candidates. The ruling military council is due to hand power to the new president on July 1.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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