Egypt keeps alive Islamist's election hopes

2012-04-12 16:41

Cairo - An Egyptian court has ordered authorities to produce evidence of whether the mother of an Islamist presidential candidate has dual Egyptian-US citizenship, something that could disqualify him from running in the May election.

A new election law passed after the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year bars anyone from running if the candidate, the candidate's spouse or parents hold any citizenship other than Egyptian.

The election commission said last week it had received documents showing that the popular ultraconservative candidate Hazem Abu Ismail's mother was an American citizen. Abu Ismail is considered one of the front-runners ahead of the May 23-24 vote and the announcement sparked widespread protests by his supporters.

The decision by a Cairo administrative court on Wednesday did not settle the question of whether Abu Ismail is eligible to run — though it was initially understood that way and met with cheers of "God is great!" by thousands of supporters who had camped for hours outside the courthouse, waiting for the verdict.

The court ordered the Interior Ministry to provide evidence to show whether Abu Ismail's late mother had any nationality other than her Egyptian one. His lawyers said documents that had been presented in court were insufficient to prove the point.

Abu Ismail is a 50-year-old lawyer-turned-preacher with a large following of enthusiastic supporters, particularly from the ultraconservative Salafi movement which made a surprisingly strong showing in parliamentary elections several months ago. The group won nearly a quarter of seats in the legislature. The more moderate Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood took about half the seats, giving the two main Islamist blocs a large majority in parliament.

Abu Ismail has challenged authorities to produce evidence that his mother was registered in Egypt as a U.S. citizen and said claims about her American citizenship were a plot by authorities and foreign powers to disqualify him. He argued that if his mother held any citizenship other than Egyptian, authorities must prove her dual nationality through local records.

23 presidential hopefuls

However, many Egyptians who acquire a second nationality fail to register with the government here and therefore are not recognized by Egypt as dual nationals.

Egypt's election commission is currently vetting 23 presidential hopefuls and is expected to announce a final list of candidates by the end of the month. Abu Ismail's fate may not be known until that announcement.

The prospect of his return to the first freely contested presidential vote in Egypt's history threatens to divide the votes of Islamists, who have nominated a number of different candidates.

Among the Islamist contenders are Khairat el-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant political group to arise from last year's uprising.

Mubarak's ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman also joined the race in a surprise move on Friday, the last day to submit candidacy applications.

Other candidates are also facing legal challenges, including el-Shater. Some have challenged el-Shater's candidacy on the grounds he served time in prison in connection to his political activity under Mubarak. He was pardoned by the military generals who succeeded Mubarak, but his detractors argue that more time must pass before he can run, according to the law.

Suleiman's bid for presidency has angered Islamists and revolutionary groups who say it was an offense to the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. He is facing a challenge from the Islamist-dominated parliament. Parliamentary committees have been discussing passing a law barring former Mubarak officials from running for office.