CAIRO // Supporters of Islamist presidential candidates banned from running by an election commission vowed yesterday to hold protests against the country's military rulers, who they claimed were manipulating Egypt's democratic transition to reinstate members of the old regime.
Demonstrations are expected in Tahrir Square on Friday, with some Muslim Brotherhood supporters considering an extended sit-in to protest against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
Islamist political groups and Scaf have become the two largest powers in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign last year.
Khairat Al Shater, the former deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was among the disqualified presidential candidates, blamed Scaf for meddling in Egypt's path to democracy and said the group's members would flood Tahrir Square, the centre of demonstrations against Mubarak and the military rulers who took power after his downfall.
Critics and protesters question the independence of the election commission, which is made up of senior judges appointed by the military leaders.
"Mubarak's regime is still ruling even if the names have changed," Mr Al Shater said yesterday.
"We are going to head to Tahrir on Friday because the revolution is being hijacked. We have to wake up because there is an attempt to hijack the revolution."
Tensions between Islamist groups and Scaf have been steadily increasing since last year, when the military tried in a proposed constitutional document to shield itself from scrutiny. That proposal was eventually retracted, but Scaf's refusal to appoint a new cabinet with parliamentary approval and the presidential disqualifications are threatening to transform the stand-off into a new round of street protests.
"I am very fearful about Friday," said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University in Cairo. "I fear it may prove to be more tense than any Friday demonstrations before. With these developments and new crises, I don't know how long society can maintain its stability."
The Supreme Presidential Election Commission (Spec) announced on Tuesday it had denied the appeals of front-running candidates including Mr Al Shater, Omar Suleiman, Egypt's former intelligence chief and vice president, and Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafist lawyer. In all, 10 of 23 candidates were prohibited from running for the presidency.
Mr Al Shater was barred because of a criminal conviction. Mr Suleiman failed to gather enough signatories in his campaign application. And Mr Abu Ismail's mother was revealed to be a US citizen, which contravenes laws requiring parents of presidential candidates to be Egyptian.
Mr Abu Ismail's supporters have also loudly criticised his disqualification and held protests leading up to Spec's decision. The judges who make up the commission fled their office last Friday during one protest.
Spec's decision redrew the election landscape nearly a month before Egyptians are set to go to the polls on May 23 and 24. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a moderate Islamic scholar, and Amr Moussa, Egypt's former foreign minister, are now considered the front-runners in the race.
Mohammed Morsy, the chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party who had filed campaign papers as the group's backup candidate, is now the party's choice for the presidency. The Freedom and Justice Party won nearly half the seats in parliamentary elections that finished in February.
But Mr Morsy is not an immediate favourite, even with the Muslim Brotherhood's support, because he has not become a well known public figure in Egypt.
Mr Morsy, 60, an engineer, has played an instrumental role in forming the strategy that led the party to sweep the parliament elections, but he lacks the charisma of Mr Al Shater, who had bolstered his image in recent months and modelled himself as a moderate who would use his business background to restore the battered economy.
Egypt's democratic transition has also been hampered by a failure to rewrite the constitution. An administrative court this month suspended the work of a 100-member committee appointed by parliament, while a judicial panel examines the legality of how the members were chosen. Scaf officials said yesterday that the presidential elections would still take place next month as planned.
Without a new constitution, the new president will assume the same broad powers as Mubarak. Mohamed ElBaradei, a former contender for the presidency and Nobel laureate, has criticised the plan to elect first and establish powers second as the "result of bungled transition".