Egypt Islamic body backs Brotherhood candidate

2012-04-26 10:37

A panel of fundamentalist Islamic clerics has endorsed the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood for president of Egypt, an attempt to prevent a split of the conservative Muslim voters.

In another twist, Egypt’s election commission reinstated a candidate who is a former regime official it disqualified just a day before yesterday, scrambling the projected voting even more.

The ultraconservative endorsement boosted the Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, who faces competition in next month’s election from a more moderate Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, who broke ranks with the group.

Support for Morsi came from the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reform, a panel of clerics mostly from the ultraconservative Salafis and new Islamist parties, but also including Brotherhood members. The decision was announced at a news conference in Cairo.

Despite the official unity, the presence of two strong Islamist candidates raised the possibility that the religious vote could be split, creating fierce competition with secular figures. One is former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is popular among many who fear a dominant Islamist influence.

In a surprise move, Egypt’s election commission reinstated another secular candidate who could split that sector of the vote – deposed leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

Shafiq is popular among supporters of Mubarak and also Egyptians who fear the strength of the Islamists. He could compete for voters with Moussa.

Shafiq was disqualified on Tuesday after the Islamist-dominated parliament passed a law barring former senior officials from the Mubarak regime from running for office.

Today, Shafiq appealed against the disqualification, challenging the constitutionality of the law that banned him. Shafiq argued the law was passed after he applied to run, Egypt’s official news agency reported. The commission referred the law to the constitutional court, and then it reinstated Shafiq.

The race has already seen a series of dramatic turns, with major candidates suddenly entering and just as fast exiting the race, mostly through decisions by the commission. It has vetoed 10 candidates on technical grounds, including the two strongest Islamists and Mubarak’s one-time intelligence chief.

Islamists - the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis - have emerged as important power brokers in Egypt after the ouster of Mubarak last year. Under his reign, the Brotherhood was outlawed, and the Salafis were not active politically. Together they now have a large majority in parliament and wield considerable power in the society.

The first round of elections is set for May 23-24. If no one wins a majority, a runoff will be held in June.

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