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Egyptian Islamists pick 2nd nominee to run for president; Cite fear of efforts to reinstate regime

Egypt's most powerful political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, announced Saturday it is nominating the head of its party as a back-up candidate for president in the face of attempts to disqualify their main nominee.

The decision to put forth a second candidate was spurred by fears that the ruling military council may use Egypt's election committee to disqualify Islamist presidential hopefuls to make room for former regime officials to win.

The May election is the first presidential vote since last year's ouster of Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. It is a crucial election for both the military and the Brotherhood, which are already sparring for power.

In a statement released late Saturday, the Brotherhood said they are putting forth party leader Mohammed Morsi as an alternate to Khairat el-Shater, the group's chief strategist and financier.

The Brotherhood, which emerged from last year's uprising as the most powerful party in Egypt when it won nearly half the seats in parliament, said there appear to be efforts by the election committee to disqualify certain candidates from the race.

"There are attempts to create barriers for some candidates," the Brotherhood said, adding that there are those who want the former regime to return to power.

Others who have expressed interest in running for president are Mubarak's ex-deputy and longtime spy chief Omar Suleiman, his ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and his ex-foreign minister and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

"Because we are protecting the success of the revolution and all of its goals we have decided as the Brotherhood and its party to nominate Mohammed Morsi as our backup candidate for president," the Brotherhood said.

El-Shater, its main candidate, was released from prison last month after serving five years on charges relating to his membership in the then-outlawed Brotherhood under Mubarak.

The Brotherhood said el-Shater faces no legal obstacles to running for president.

The announcement of a backup candidate came just hours after an ultraconservative Islamist group put forward a fundamentalist cleric as its candidate after reports surfaced that ultraconservative hopeful, Hazem Abu Ismail, could be disqualified from running. Egypt's election commission said Saturday that his mother was a U.S. citizen, which could disqualify him.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters in a mosque Saturday, Abu Ismail said he has proof his mother was not a U.S. citizen.

The Gamaa Islamiya, or Islamic Group, said it selected Safwat Hegazy, a prominent imam who preaches on television, as a backup to Abu Ismail.

Last month France barred Hegazy from entering the country for an Islamic conference along with a number of other high-profile Muslim clerics because they "call for hatred and violence."