At Last, Egypt settles on presidential candidates

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Amr Moussa, the front-runner in the Egyptian presidential race, speaks during a press conference in Cairo on Apr. 22.

After months of anticipation, and just a few weeks before the voting, Egypt now has a list of 13 officially approved presidential candidates.

Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League, is one of the 13, and he is ahead in most opinion surveys in advance of the May 23-24 election.

And in a reversal, Egyptian election officials agreed Thursday to let one of Hosni Mubarak's former prime ministers run for president.

The candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, was allowed to re-enter the race after he was disqualified a day earlier. The reversal drew angry reactions from one key Islamist group, and some analysts believe it could complicate, or even derail the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which easily won the most votes in parliamentary elections several months ago, said in a message on its website that the election commission was playing politics.

At a televised news conference, the chairman of the election commission, Farouq Sultan, waved off journalists who questioned their decision. We know better than you what the law is, he told the journalists.

Potential Legal Issues And Delays

But some analysts say it is not that simple.

"This will threaten the whole presidential elections process, and possibly the whole transition process as well," said Omar Ashour, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Center in Doha, Qatar.

At issue is the law that was used to ban Shafiq in the first place. The law was approved by parliament and later by the military junta. The constitutional court will review the ban within 45 days.

But that means the ruling could come after the election, and it could lead to additional legal challenges, Ashour said.

The ensuing legal quagmire, he added, could give the ruling generals the leverage to impose delays if they don't like the winning candidate.

"The generals want someone who does not challenge their status quo too much, who does not push forward a revolutionary change in civil and military relations," said Ashour. "If the results are radically worrying for them, then they may use the constitutional court decision."

But Sultan, the chairman of the election commission, said the decision to reinstate Shafiq is final. He told reporters that if Shafiq is elected president, he will be allowed to remain in that post even if the court upholds the law banning him.

But Shafiq faces an uphill battle at the polls. Moussa is considered the favorite, and two Islamist candidates are also expected to make a strong showing.

One is Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader whose moderate stance has won him widespread secular support.

The other is the Brotherhood's own candidate, Mohammed Mursi, who heads the movement's political party that holds nearly half the seats in parliament.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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