- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Egypt’s electoral commission disqualified another well-known presidential candidate Tuesday, setting up a three-way race whose outcome could decide the direction of the country’s year-old revolution.

The commission disqualified former air force commander Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed prime minister last year in the waning days of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency. A new law bars former Mubarak officials who had served in the past 10 years from seeking office.

Last week, the commission disqualified 10 other candidates, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat al-Shater, hard-line Salafist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail and former Mubarak spy chief Omar Suleiman.

The disqualifications leave three major candidates:

Mohammed Morsi, who replaced Mr. al-Shater as the Brotherhood’s presidential contender.

Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general.

• Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a longtime Brotherhood leader who was expelled from the group last year for defying its promise at the time not to field a presidential candidate.

The Brotherhood reversed its stance late last month, citing threats to democracy from the ruling military council. Mr. Morsi has called for strict clerical oversight of Egyptian law.

Egyptians will vote in the election’s first round May 23 and 24, and the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff June 16 and 17 in the likely event that no candidate gets a first-round majority.

The winner could decide the fate of Egypt’s year-old revolution, which already has taken a decidedly Islamist turn. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist Nour Party won a combined two-thirds of the vote in parliamentary elections.

Given that Mr. Shafik had been lagging in the polls, analysts said it is too early to know how his disqualification would affect the election’s outcome.

“I’m not sure it affects the race all that much,” said Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Struggle for Egypt.”

Shafik was polling in the low double digits. I imagine that Shafik supporters will now vote for Amr Moussa in an effort to prevent Aboul Fotouh or Mohammed Morsi from winning.”

Mr. Moussa - once considered the overwhelming favorite - faces an uphill battle, even if he makes the runoff. A recent poll showed that 57 percent of Egyptians prefer an Islamist candidate.

“The key question is whether Egyptian secularists turn out in sufficient numbers in support of Amr Moussa … and whether the Islamists unite around one candidate or split their vote between Morsi and Aboul Fotouh,” said Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s impossible to predict how this will play out and, in a respect, I think that’s healthy.”