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Egypt election officials bar 3 top candidates from presidential race

CAIRO — In a move that could rechart the course of Egypt's landmark presidential polls, the election commission late Saturday barred the top three candidates from the race for failing to meet eligibility criteria.

The former spy chief Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood financier Khairat el Shater and the ultraconservative cleric Hazem Salah Abu Ismail are among 10 disqualified candidates, the commission announced via state media. The men have 48 hours to appeal the decision; their supporters already are vowing mass demonstrations in protest.

According to the state-backed Al-Ahram newspaper, the High Elections Commission cited these reasons for the invalidations: a majority of Suleiman's requisite endorsement signatories couldn't be verified or had signed for other candidates, Shater's pardon for an old money-laundering conviction didn't cover his related ban from political life, and Foreign Ministry documents proved that Abu Ismail's mother was a naturalized American. Candidates are required to have two Egyptian parents.

"We will report all the aforementioned violations to the prosecutor in order to take legal action," the commission said in a statement.

Just six weeks from the opening of the presidential polls, the race is dogged by conspiracy theories, court challenges, huge demonstrations, accusations of fraud and even an Egyptian-style birther controversy. The military council is expected to meet with political leaders Sunday to discuss the crisis.

The well-known blogger and revolutionary Mahmoud Salem, better known as Sandmonkey, compared the presidential race to an episode of the fantasy-adventure TV show "Lost" in a message on Twitter: "u don't fully understand what's going on at the time, but u are entertained & enjoying the twists."

The ruling reinvigorates the candidacies of former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, the reform-minded Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Futouh, and the Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who were all eclipsed when the race turned into a three-way battle of the now-excluded frontrunners.

The Brotherhood had anticipated this outcome and registered an alternative candidate, Mohamed Mursi, leader of its spinoff Freedom and Justice Party. Even so, the group would appeal the decision to exclude Shater, said Abdelmenem Abdelmaksoud, an attorney for the Brotherhood.

In an online statement, the Suleiman campaign, citing a senior consultant, said he would be contesting the decision and gathering the necessary documents to meet the criteria within the 48-hour appeal period.

Abu Ismail, speaking by telephone late Saturday in an interview with the Islamist cable channel Hikma, also said he would appeal the decision first thing Sunday morning. He also vowed retaliation against Egypt's military rulers.

"I know of bribery cases involving top officials and I will have to expose them," Abu Ismail warned in the interview.

In a further twist, another of the candidates disqualified under the ruling — the prominent attorney Mortada Mansour — was declared a fugitive. Egyptian authorities, via state media, said he'd gone on the run to escape charges holding him responsibility for the so-called Battle of the Camels, one of the most violent of the 18 days of revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak's regime in February 2011.

Mansour was barred from the race because his internally divided party had fielded a second candidate in violation of election rules, according to the election commission.

Also banned Saturday was liberal former political prisoner Ayman Nour, who ran afoul of the old regime and ended up in prison after daring to challenge Mubarak in a presidential race. Like Shater, according to state media, Nour was disqualified because his old Mubarak-era conviction stripped him of his political rights.

Nour said he would appeal.

"This decision targets specific personalities and is politically motivated," he said in a statement.

Supporters of the barred candidates were galvanized by their fury over the decision — they immediately set about planning demonstrations and flooding social networking sites with harsh criticism of the transitional authorities.

Shater, the Brotherhood candidate, reassured his supporters in a message in Arabic on his official Twitter account: "We will not give up on freedom. The case is not the candidacy of this or that, it's about guaranteeing freedoms and the continuation of the revolution."

(Sabry is a special correspondent.)


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