Overthrowing Egypt's decades-old regime took just 18 days for demonstrators packed into Cairo's Tahrir Square last spring, but building a new government is proving a far lengthier-and thornier-proposition. The country's newly appointed elections commission delivered a surprising blow to the three frontrunners in presidential elections slated to begin on May 23: They disqualified all three candidates from the ballot.
The commissioners gave no immediate explanation, but the candidates vowed to appeal their exclusions from the first presidential contests since former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011. All three are controversial: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat al-Shater because the Islamist political party promised not to back a presidential candidate; former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman because of his ties to the old regime; and hard-line Islamist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail whose promotion of Sharia law could eclipse secular politicians.
But each man has his supporters, and thousands poured into Tahrir Square to back their candidates and protest the commission's actions. The escalating tension stoked fears of chaos and possible violence ahead of May elections, and fed doubts that the ruling military party will hand over power to a civilian government on June 30 as promised. But for now, the military council members remain in control of much of the process, including one key area: They appointed the election commission that's calling the shots on presidential contests.