ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The slate is set for next month's Egyptian presidential elections. Officials have approved 13 candidates. And in an unexpected reversal, one of Hosni Mubarak's former prime ministers is back on the list. That decision angered a key Islamist group. And as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, some analysts believe the move could derail the election.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The decision allowing Ahmed Shafiq to re-enter the race, after he was disqualified a day earlier, caught many Egyptians by surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood, in a message on its website, angrily accused the election commission of playing politics. Election officials dismissed such criticism as sour grapes.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: At a televised news conference, election commission chairman Farouk Sultan waved off journalists who questioned the reversal. We know better than you what the law is, the senior judge said. But some analysts say it's not that simple.
OMAR ASHOUR: This will threaten the whole presidential elections process and possibly, the whole transition process as well.
NELSON: That's Omar Ashour, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Center in Doha. At issue is the law that was used to ban Shafiq in the first place, one approved by Parliament and later, by the military junta. The Constitutional Court will review the ban within 45 days. That review is after the election, which means a decision upholding the ban could lead to other legal challenges, Ashour says. He adds the ensuing legal quagmire could give the ruling generals the leverage they need to call a new election if they don't like the winning candidate.
ASHOUR: The general wants somebody who does not challenge their status quo too much, and does not push forward a revolutionary change in the civil and military relations. If the results are radically worrying for them, then they may use the Constitutional Court decision.
NELSON: The election commission chairman, however, says the decision to reinstate Shafiq was final.
FAROUK SULTAN: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: Sultan told reporters that if the former prime minister is elected president, he will be allowed to remain in that post even if the court upholds the law. But Shafiq faces an uphill battle at the polls. Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, is ahead in most surveys. And two Islamist candidates are also expected to make a strong showing.
One is Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader whose moderate stance has won him widespread secular support. The other is the Brotherhood's own candidate, Mohammed Mursi, who heads the movement's political party that holds nearly half the seats in Parliament.
SAFWAT ABDEL GHANI: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: At a news conference, Safwat Abdel Ghani, of the hard-line Jama'a al-Islamiya, said his group was wavering between the two Islamist candidates. The Brotherhood's main competitor, the Salafist Nour Party, says it, too, has not decided whom to endorse.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.