New entries stir up Egypt presidential race

Brotherhood reveals second nominee, Salafist contender replaced by harder-line Islamist.

Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater (photo credit: Reuters)
Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Muslim Brotherhood announced it would field a second presidential nominee and a Salafist candidate was replaced with an even harder-line Islamic extremist as registration closed Sunday for Egypt’s presidential race.
The Brotherhood – which garnered half of the parliamentary seats in voting earlier this year – announced it would run the head of its Freedom and Justice Party as its second officially sanctioned candidate.
Mohamed Morsi joins Khairat al-Shater, a veteran Brotherhood financier, as the Brotherhood’s nominees despite the group’s earlier pledge not to run any presidential contenders at all.
Morsi appears to be the Brotherhood’s “backup” candidate – the Islamist group wrote on its English-language Twitter account that his candidacy would be withdrawn if authorities certified Shater as eligible.
Cairo’s Al-Ahram newspaper reported that the uncertainty over Shater’s candidacy stems from the candidate’s prison record. Shater was serving a seven-year sentence due to expire in 2015 for money laundering and funding the Brotherhood, which under former president Hosni Mubarak was banned. He was freed a year ago in the wake of the popular uprising that pushed out Mubarak after three decades in power.
Shater must now receive a “redemption” pardon from the military court in which he was tried, but that could come only 10 years after his sentencing – in 2018. The candidate could, however, be retried if new evidence is produced surrounding his case, or the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces could decide to issue an immediate pardon.
Former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was one of the candidates filing his official registration Sunday. On Friday Suleiman publicly reversed his earlier decision not to run, but said he needed to collect the signatures of 30,000 eligible voters by Sunday’s deadline in order to participate in the election.
Ecstatic supporters cheered behind lines of military police as Suleiman arrived at the office of the state election committee in Cairo. He then handed in his candidacy documents, the state news agency MENA reported.
The 74-year-old is seen as a known quantity in Egypt, a source of stability in a country roiled by inter-communal violence and the surprising performance of Islamists in parliamentary elections. But Suleiman was a trusted ally of Mubarak and his go-to official on ties with Israel – two points that many voters view as liabilities.
On Saturday Egypt’s electoral commission disqualified Hazem Salah Abu Ismail – a Brotherhood-linked candidate representing the hardline Salafist movement – after revelations that his mother was a US citizen. Abu Ismail has dismissed the charges as a “plot” against him, but Salafist groups have already chosen a replacement in Safwat Hegazy.
The popular television preacher joined the race on behalf of Al-Gama’a Al- Islamiyya, a formerly banned extremist organization that the EU and US deem a terrorist group. Hegazy himself was banned from entering the United Kingdom three years ago for inciting hatred.
In 2006 Hegazy issued a fatwa calling for the death of visiting Israeli officials. Though the edict was later withdrawn, his sermons have since referred to Israelis as “sons of pigs and apes” and endorsed Kassam rocket fire on Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip.
In a sermon from last summer widely circulated on YouTube, Hegazy warned Israel, “Jerusalem belongs to us, and the whole world belongs to us.”
“Every land upon which Islam has set foot will return to us,” he said. “The caliphate will return to us, on the platform of prophecy... We will pray in Jerusalem.”
The three-week campaign season starts April 30, with elections beginning in late May. The latest surveys show former foreign minister Amr Moussa leading the presidential pack, but those polls were conducted before Suleiman and the Brotherhood representatives had announced their candidacy.
The victor must steer the Arab world’s most populous country out of more than a year of precarious military rule even as the economy languishes and citizens grow impatient for dividends from an uprising driven by outrage at poverty and corruption.
The Brotherhood and other Islamists dominate parliament and a body drafting a new constitution that could curtail the broad powers Egyptian presidents enjoyed for decades.
Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.