Egypt’s High Presidential Election Commission on Tuesday banned former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq from running in the upcoming presidential race, a day after the ruling military council signed into law a draft bill that was passed by the Islamists-dominated parliament and that sought to bar top officials from Hosni Mubarak’s era from occupying senior public posts for a period of 10 years.
Shafiq, a former senior Egyptian Air Force commander, was appointed by Mubarak as prime minister on Jan. 29, 2011 in response to the revolution that broke out four days earlier. He resigned from his short-lived premiership on March 3 after pressures from protesters who accused him of being an old guard of Mubarak.
Shafiq has been criticized by Islamists, liberals and others who see his campaign as a bid by the army and former Mubarak allies to roll back gains of the uprising.
“The disqualification of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq came in light of his position as prime minister at the end of the previous regime,” an official in the electoral commission said, according to Reuters.
The new law denies political rights to anyone who served as president, vice president or prime minister in the decade prior to Mubarak’s removal from power on Feb. 11, 2011. It also applies to anyone who served in top posts in the ruling party.
Mubarak’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman, who also briefly served as vice president, has been barred from running, as have two Islamist candidates, who had been seen as front-runners.
The main candidates still in the race, besides Shafiq , are former foreign minister and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, moderate Islamist and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh and the candidate backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mursi.
The few opinion polls that are available have put Moussa in the lead, suggesting he will make it into the run-off against one of the Islamists. However, many voters are undecided.
“Part of the votes that would have gone to Shafiq would go to Amr Moussa, because he is the only figure with government experience that remains in the race,” said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
The first real race for Egypt’s presidency had already taken one dramatic turn when earlier this month the authorities disqualified three other front-runners, including Mubarak’s former vice-president, Omar Suleiman, and two top Islamists.
The army-led transition has been overshadowed by bursts of street violence and rising tensions between Islamists and secular-minded politicians at odds over the new constitution.
Egypt holds its first presidential election since Mubarak was ousted in February 2011 on May 23 and 24, with a run-off between the top two candidates likely in June. The ruling generals who assumed power from Mubarak last year are due to hand power to the new president on July 1.
Political uncertainty is unlikely to end with the presidential vote. Questions remain about how much influence the powerful military will wield after the vote and to what extent presidential powers will be diluted in the new constitution.
Abol Fotouh, a member of the Brotherhood for decades, moved back to the heart of the race when his rivals, including the group’s first-choice candidate, were disqualified.
The Brotherhood expelled Abol Fotouh last year when he defied its wishes by deciding to run for president. On Tuesday, he told Reuters he expected to win outright by securing more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. “God willing, we will take most of the Brotherhood’s votes,” he said.
“We are working and organizing on the basis that we will win from the first round and not in the run-off,” the 60-year old said in an interview. “As elections approach, our chances of winning are increasing.”
A diplomat in Cairo said the race still appeared to be very open. “The recent developments tend to favor the centrist candidates: Moussa and Abol Fotouh,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ahmed Sarhan, a spokesman for Shafiq, said the ban ran against the constitution. “In our view, any attempt to exclude or deprive citizen Ahmed Shafiq of his political rights is a constitutional transgression”.
The election commission’s decisions cannot be appealed in the courts.