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Egyptian presidential candidates banned from their country's elections say they will not go quietly. Officials yesterday upheld the ruling that several leading candidates cannot compete. Those affected include two of the leading Islamist candidates and the one-time spy chief of former President Hosni Mubarak. The decision radically alters the first presidential race since the country's revolution. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is tracking the disqualified candidates respond.

HAZEM ABU ISMAIL: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Minutes after official news outlets announced the election commission ruling, candidate Hazem Abu Ismail took to the airwaves to denounce it as a conspiracy.

ISMAIL: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The popular hard-line cleric warned people not to trust the commission that ousted him. He accused its members of spreading rumors and trying to divide the Islamist community. Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat el-Shater were equally blistering. In a phone interview, campaign spokesman Yehia Hamed said the ruling proves Hosni Mubarak's regime remains firmly in charge in Egypt.

YEHIA HAMED: It's not fair at all to have someone like Mr. Shater, who has been imprisoned unfairly for 12 years in Mubarak's time, to be ousted without any legal stand on it and we have already submitted many documents that prove that our legal position is secured 100 percent.

NELSON: Even the campaign of Mubarak's spy chief Omar Suleiman claims the commission judges, who were appointed by the former president, have a political agenda. The judges say they disqualified Suleiman because he was short 31 voter signatures affirming his candidacy.

SAMUEL EL-ASHAY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: His campaign manager, Samuel el-Ashay, says Suleiman won't give up. They plan to file a lawsuit to try and overturn the ban. Supporters for Salafist cleric Abu Ismail, meanwhile, are calling for protests. His lawyer and campaign spokesman Ayman Elias says they are also considering legal action, given their earlier court challenge against the commission about the evidence disqualifying him was upheld. Abu Ismail was banned because officials declared his mother holds dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship.

AYMAN ELIAS: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Elias argues the commission never produced the actual documents proving Abu Ismail's mother was a naturalized American citizen. Nevertheless, it's unlikely any court challenges will prevail, given the ruling generals have deemed commission decisions to be final. That's why the Muslim Brotherhood has opted for a back-up candidate.

His name is Mohammed Mursi and he heads the movement's Freedom and Justice Party, which holds nearly half the seats in parliament. But he faces stiff competition from former Brotherhood icon Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. His moderate stance makes him popular with many secular and liberal Egyptians.

Recent polls show former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is also a top contender. He has wide name recognition here and vast political experience, which revolution-weary Egyptians believe is necessary to put their country back on track.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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