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US tie could foil conservative Islamist Egyptian presidential candidate

Charlene Gubash / NBC News

Supporters of Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail pray in Cairo's Tahrir Square during a demonstration in support of his embattled election bid on Friday.

CAIRO – In an ironic twist of fate, the most conservative and anti-American of Egypt’s Islamist presidential candidates may be barred from running because his mother was a U.S. citizen. 

Hazem Abu Ismail is an extremely popular Salafist presidential candidate who has steamrolled the competition in an aggressive campaign that has blanketed Cairo with posters of his beaming and bearded round face.

But his campaign is now fighting for survival against the latest accusations that his deceased mother held U.S. citizenship. Egyptian law prohibits citizens whose parents hold (or held) dual citizenship from running for president.

Abu Ismail maintains his mother only had a green card. Egypt’s election commission announced Thursday that his mother was a U.S. citizen, however they have not officially disqualified him from the race yet. The New York Times also reported earlier this week that California public records and voting records prove she became a U.S. citizen. 

Anti-American Egyptian candidate may be tripped up by mother’s US ties

If Abu Ismail’s candidacy is disqualified, it could seriously shake-up the race that includes former regime officials and Islamists competing in the first presidential election since former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The election is set for the end of May.

A show of support
On Friday thousands of die-hard Abu Ismail supporters marched to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to defend their candidate against what they called lies and forgery. 

“U.S. intelligence said she was a U.S. citizen, but they are lying. So is the military. They are supporters of the old regime,” said Kamel Hussein, a 35-year-old Egyptian TV employee. Hussein, who is a supporter of Abu Ismail but not a Salafist, said his vote would go to liberal former Arab League chief Amr Moussa if Ismail is forced out. 

Cairo math teacher, Mostafa Aly, 28, believes the military and security forces have forged documents so that Abu Ismail, if elected, will not try them for attacks against demonstrators during and after the revolution, as he had promised. 

“The people who don’t want to be tried are behind this,” insisted Aly. 

Charlene Gubash / NBC News

Pediatrician and father of four, Dr. Mohamed Farouk, attends the Salafist demonstration in Tahrir Square with his two sons on Friday.

Dr. Mohamed Farouk, a pediatrician and father of four, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the U.S. and the old guard for spreading false rumors about Abu Ismail. 

“The Muslim Brotherhood are afraid of him,” said Farouk. The Muslim Brotherhood, which recently put forward its own presidential candidate, stands to gain if he is disqualified because they could pick up some of his conservative Islamist votes. The Brotherhood already won nearly have of the seats in Parliament earlier this year.

Muslim Brotherhood shocks Egypt with presidential run

Farouk insisted others were plotting against Abu Ismail, too.

“I believe everything Ismail says. He is always speaking the truth. When they found 160,000 people supporting his candidacy, they became afraid. They are playing a game to prevent his presidency.”

Most supporters said they would stand by their candidate regardless. 

Charlene Gubash / NBC News

Mohamed Kamil, a 23-year-old pharmacist protests in Tahrir is support of embattled Salafist presidential candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail.

“If his mother was an Eskimo, I would still support him,” one young man interjected. 

A few threatened to come to Tahrir Square en masse if he is thrown out of the race.   

“This demonstration is a warning to the military government. If there is forgery of her citizenship, we will have a second revolution,” said Mohammed Khalil, a 23-year-old pharmacist. 

Others said their vote would go to the most liberal Islamist candidate, Abdel Munim Abdel Foutouh, a reform minded doctor who was expelled from the Brotherhood and who has been trying to appeal to both religious and secular Egyptians – rather than the official Brotherhood candidate.

Numbers matter
However, if Friday’s relatively small show of support is any indication, the Salafist’s foiled candidacy may pass quietly into the night.

While his stalwarts showed up, the number of people gathered was not overly impressive. The crowd appeared to be less than 5,000 people, which is small compared to the hundreds of thousands who have professed their support for him.

Many of the people gathered gave ‘the dog ate my homework’-type excuses for low attendance, such as the heat, fasting on a holy day and short notice.

But the absence of more supporters may prove significant.