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There's been no shortage of action in the ramp-up to Egypt's presidential election. With just over six weeks to go, some big names have jumped into the race and legal action threatens to disqualify others. Just yesterday, a key face from the regime of Hosni Mubarak declared his candidacy. Omar Suleiman is 75-year-old and Mubarak's former intelligence chief.
His entrance has sparked fears that the military council, which currently runs the country, is maneuvering to bring back the old regime. Meantime, two leading Islamist candidates could be kicked off the ballot. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Few could blame Egyptians for complaining about a severe case of political whiplash. Just 15 months after demonstrators celebrated the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a much smaller but no less boisterous crowd cheered the reappearance on the political scene of the man sometimes called the power behind Mubarak.
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KENYON: To some Egyptians - exhausted by a year of turmoil, economic decline and uncertainty - Omar Suleiman represents stability. His first interview to a state-run newspaper featured a promise to restore security and then focus on the economy. But for many other Egyptians, who remember the hundreds who gave their lives to topple the old regime, a Suleiman presidency would bring not stability but utter chaos.
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MOHAMMED ABDEL RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: There will be another revolution, says 35-year-old Mohammed Abdel Rahman, and this time, it will have an Islamic engine. Nobody will be able to contain it.
Abdel Rahman and thousands of other Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest a finding by the presidential election commission that would appear to disqualify the most conservative Islamist in the race, Hazem Abu Ismail. Egyptian and U.S. authorities report that Abu Ismail's mother held U.S. citizenship, not allowed for an Egyptian presidential candidate.
The main beneficiary if Abu Ismail is tossed from the race would seem to be another Islamist, the Muslim Brotherhood's late entry, millionaire Khairat al-Shater.
But many of those gathered here agreed with English teacher Mohammed Khalifa, who fears that the military council may try to force all the top Islamist candidates out.
MOHAMMED KHALIFA: Things are not clear, and the military council has held things up. Things are not going straight. We're moving from a plot to another. We're moving from an artificial problem to another. The people don't trust anyone. I don't trust anyone, neither anybody here. They don't trust anyone.
KENYON: The military council has said it's committed to staging free and fair elections, a position viewed with increasing skepticism on the street.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood is suffering from a series of about-faces and flip-flops. First, they promised to run for a limited number of parliamentary seats, only to win nearly an outright majority. They promised a limited number on the panel assigned to draft a new constitution, and then packed it with their supporters, according to critics. And after a year of saying they wouldn't field a presidential candidate, they launched Khairat al-Shater's bid.
Brotherhood official Amr Darrag acknowledges that some are saying the brothers' credibility is damaged. But now that Omar Suleiman has emerged from the shadows, he says Egyptians are beginning to realize that the Brotherhood is acting to prevent the military from turning back the clock to before the January 25th revolution.
AMR DARRAG: Our original intention was not to run for this position. But when we realized that somebody is trying to get us back to 24th of January 2011, as a matter of fact, this was the main reason for us fielding Khairat al-Shater. We had to field a candidate because we feel that this was the only way to protect the revolution.
KENYON: Left on the sidelines for the moment, the youth movement that started the revolution, and moderates and liberals hoping for a democracy in Egypt that protects women's and minority rights. There was, however, a glimmer of hope for those voters in one recent poll taken before Shater entered the race. That showed former Arab League head Amr Moussa as the front runner.
Media owner and longtime human rights activist Hisham Kassem says Egypt's revolutionaries would do well to consider a compromise candidate like Moussa or risk the classic danger of post-revolution states one person, one vote, one time.
HISHAM KASSEM: And always remember that Mauritania did have free elections like we had, and Sudan did. We're talking Sudan '83. They had a similar election to what is happening now in Egypt. They voted a government and a president. Three years later, the military overthrew them, and we ended up with Omar al-Bashir for, you know, he's approaching 30 years now in power.
KENYON: A final list of Egyptian candidates should be announced later this month. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.
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