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Egypt's ad hoc transition plan

Leading Egyptian presidential candidates have been tossed out of the race, distrust of Egypt's military rulers is rising, and the timeline for writing a new constitution has been tossed out the window.

By Staff writer / April 16, 2012

Pity the reporters, political activists, and academics trying to keep up with Egypt's transition "plan." Every day, it seems, new moves by the ruling military, the courts, and the quasi-independent electoral commission turn expectations on their head.

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It's human to want a see a pattern in all this, find a guiding hand behind all the maneuvering (a Machiavellian or a benevolent one, depending on your inclinations). Analysis is supposed to tease out the broader pattern, identify a narrative that helps make sense of events. But in the daily flow of statements, revelations, and warnings, I can't find anything but an unguided mess.

Writing at Foreign Policy, political scientist Nathan Brown calls "the phrase 'Egyptian transition process'... tragicomically oxymoronic in light of the dizzying series of developments over the past month."

The latest news is the disqualification of 10 Egyptian presidential aspirants a little more than six weeks from the scheduled May 23 vote. Most were no-hopers, but three are heavyweights.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a fiery, and to many frightening, salafy leader (he called Osama bin Laden a "martyr" after the Al Qaeda leader was killed in Pakistan) was tossed from the race because his deceased mother was a US citizen (it's Egypt's own birther controversy; Abu Ismail denies the claim).

Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's long-time intelligence chief and confidante, was kicked from the race because the Presidential Elections Commission ruled that his petition to run didn't receive signatures from a wide-enough range of locations (Egyptian rules require 30,000 signatures, with at least 1,000 of those from each of 15 different governorates). And Khairat al-Shater, the top Muslim Brotherhood political strategist, was disqualified because a 2006 security conviction by the Mubarak government hasn't been voided.

Others were disqualified because of political convictions during the Mubarak era, or disputes over the leadership of their political parties, and in the case of Ashraf Zaki Barouma, over allegations of draft-dodging in his youth.

With the election looming, it's unclear what comes next. Some may be reinstated, others not. Shater, Abu Ismail and Suleiman all lodged appeals of the ruling today. The electoral commission has promised a final candidate list on April 26, less than a month before the vote. Street power as a solution can't be ruled out. The Muslim Brotherhood called tens of thousands of its supporters to Tahrir Square last week, and a lawyer for Abu Ismail promised a "major crisis" if his man isn't allowed to run.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party appears best placed, since it nominated another candidate, Muhammed Mursi in case Shater was disqualified. But a recent poll by Egypt's Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies indicates it may not do them much good. The disqualifications leave Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa, two long-time servants of Mubarak, as front runners. The poll, conducted before the disqualifications, found Islamist voters had high enthusiasm for both Shater and Abu Ismail, but not for Mr. Mursi.


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