Egypt ruler, political heads meet on poll turmoil

Egypt's political leaders met on Sunday after next month's presidential election was thrown into turmoil with key candidates disqualified and the fate of a new constitution hanging in limbo.

Military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi met the heads of 17 political parties and groups and MPs to discuss major developments ahead of the first presidential poll since a popular uprising ousted long-time leader Hosni Mubarak last year.

According to a military source, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidate Khairat al-Shater was barred from running for office, attended the meeting as well as Al-Nur party, which represents the more conservative brand of Salafi Islam.

On Saturday, Egypt's election commission said that 10 of the 23 registered presidential candidates had been barred from the race, including ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman, Shater and popular Salafist politician Hazem Abu Ismail.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Tantawi, that took power when Mubarak was ousted is also to examine a law passed by parliament that would ban members of the former regime from standing for office.

If approved, the law could also see Ahmed Shafiq -- Mubarak's last prime minister -- excluded from the May 23-24 election.

A military source told AFP that the SCAF hinted that the law is unconstitutional and would have to be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court for discussion.

The military council will also discuss a court ruling suspending a constituent assembly picked by the Islamist-dominated parliament, tasked with drafting the country's new constitution.

"There was a suggestion to hold another joint session of the upper and lower house of parliaments and to choose new members for the panel, all from outside parliament," a military source told AFP.

Secular groups and parties had boycotted the panel, arguing that Islamist domination of the commission would muffle their calls for a civil state.

Saturday's round of candidacy eliminations will boost former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, who are both still in the race.

Suleiman's registration had infuriated the political forces at the forefront of last year's revolt, with many regarding his candidacy as proof that promises of a transition to democracy were merely cosmetic.

Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief for two decades, was briefly appointed Egypt's vice president but quit the post in February 2011 when the president resigned following weeks of mass protests against his 30-year rule.

Secular groups were furious over Shater's candidacy, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of monopolising politics after dominating parliament and the constituent assembly.

The powerful Islamist group had repeatedly vowed not to present a member for the top job, but in a dramatic U-turn it put forward Shater, as well as party chairman Mohammed Mursi as a back-up candidate.

Commission official Tarek Abul Atta told AFP on Saturday that Suleiman had been disqualified because he failed to garner enough endorsements from all 15 provinces as required under the law.

Shater, who was released from prison in March last year, was barred because of a law stating that candidates can only run in elections six years after being released or pardoned, Abul Atta said.

Shater, who was deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood -- banned under Mubarak -- had been in jail on charges of terrorism and money laundering, though the charges at the time were widely seen as politically motivated.

Abu Ismail is out of the race because his mother holds a foreign nationality, violating election rules which state that all candidates, their parents and their wives must have only Egyptian citizenship.

The candidates have two days to appeal the decision and the commission will issue a final list of approved candidates on April 26.

In a statement on Facebook, Shater said: "We will continue working through all legal channels."

His campaign argued he could not be disqualified because of an "unjust" conviction under Mubarak, criticising the move as "political, not legal."

The SCAF has promised to hand power to civilian rule in June after a president has been elected.

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