Egypt's election commission disqualified 10 presidential hopefuls, including Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief and key Islamists, from running Saturday in a surprise decision that threatened to upend an already tumultuous race and plunge the Arab world's most populous nation into a new political crisis.
Farouk Sultan, the head of the Supreme Presidential Election Commission that was appointed by Egypt's military rulers to oversee the vote, said that those barred from the race included Mubarak-era strongman Omar Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater and hard-line lawyer-turned-preacher Hazem Abu Ismail. He didn't give a reason.
The announcement came as a shock to many Egyptians as three of the 10 excluded were considered among the front-runners in a polarized campaign that has left the nation divided into two strong camps: Islamists and former regime insiders who are allegedly supported by the ruling generals.
If upheld, the decision would reshape the electoral landscape by removing the most powerful and controversial candidates and leaving a field of moderates.
Disqualified candidates have 48 hours to appeal the decision, according to election rules. The final list of candidates will be announced on April 26. Thirteen others had their candidacy approved, including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, according to Sultan.
A spokesman for el-Shater's campaign, Murad Mohammed Ali, called the decision "very dangerous" and said it gives a message that "there was no revolution in Egypt." Officials with all the campaigns vowed to appeal.
On Friday, more than 10,000 Egyptians marched from mosques and protested in Cairo's Tahrir Square in a show of strength by Islamists demanding that Suleiman and other ousted regime officials be barred from running.
The presidential election is due on May 23-24, with a possible runoff on June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21, less than two weeks before the July 1 deadline to take over power promised by the military rulers who took over from Mubarak.