They're allowed to be shocked in the moment, but only the most politically ignorant Egyptians would be surprised by Saturday night's unfolding events.
After weeks of presidential-level speculation over the legal status of two heavyweight Islamist candidates, Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) dropped the ax on 10 candidates scheduled to run in May 23rd's election. Among the casualties: Khairat el-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy and leading strategist, the Salafi-minded Hazem Abu Ismael and centrist-styled Ayman Nour. el-Shater and Nour were both disqualified due to the residue of political charges from Mubarak's rule, while Abu Ismael is barred by complications over his mother's U.S. citizenship. Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak's intelligence chief of 18 years, was also disqualified for failing to acquire a sufficient number of real signatures.
Many candidates have declared the intent to challenge the SPEC's ruling within 48 hours. If the situation remains unchanged, though, Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has appeased and angered a large segment of the population. el-Shater and Abu Ismael possess the capabilities to organize fervent popular demonstrations and have already hinted at this scenario. Alaa Ayad, one of el-Shater's spokesmen, undersold the possibility by saying the decision "may cause tension on the streets." Nizar Ghorab, a lawyer retained by Abu Ismael, bluntly warned that his "followers are angry and will take to the streets until he is allowed to run." Both men accused the SCAF of handing down a decision to SPEC chairman Farouk Sultan.
"We are convinced that Abu Ismael is targeted and that there are external and internal conspiracies against him," Ghorab said, referring to Abu Ismael's opposition to Egypt's treaty with Israel. "I expect a major crisis to happen in the next few hours."
Given the SCAF's cross-spectrum disqualifications, some Egyptian analysts predict that the fallout will be contained to the affected parties. Other (overlapping) segments of the population, such as the revolutionary movement, liberals, secularists and Christians, hope to avoid an Islamic dominance in Egypt's transition, and theoretically welcome the SCEP's ruling. These forces do have no reason to protest the individual losses, but they might not be fooled so easily either. Youthful and civil-inspired revolutionaries especially won't be blinded to the SCAF's intrusion. They've already learned the hard way that their military will employ any means necessary to assert hegemony in Egypt's new government, and few expected the SCAF to stay out of the presidential selection process. The generals would just as quickly cut down a leading revolutionary candidate in favor of someone with a smaller, less active power base. In targeting the election's frontrunners, the SCAF is playing numerous layers of society - competing Islamists, the old regime, revolutionaries, neutral Egyptians - against each other to maintain its politico-economic dominance.
"We will not give up our right to enter the presidential race," promised Murad Muhammed Ali, Shater's campaign manager. "There is an attempt by the old Mubarak regime to hijack the last stage of this transitional period and reproduce the old system of governance."