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Egypt's election committee bars 10 candidates from president's race

Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

Former Egypt spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman, reflects Saturday on his disqualification.

CAIRO -- In the most shocking twist yet in Egypt's Decision 2012, the High Presidential Election Committee changed the political landscape in one fell swoop. The committee announced a decision Saturday night to ban 10 candidates, including some frontrunners who faced challenges to their eligibility.

Gone is the ultraconservative Salafist, Hazem Abu Ismail, who just Friday drew tens of thousands to Tahrir Square to protest the candidacy of another now banned candidate, Omar Suleiman. Suleiman was the former intelligence chief of the old regime. Many opposed him because they felt he would reverse the gainsof the revolution while thousands of others looked toward him to restore security.

Gone also is financier and enforcer of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al Shater. While al Shater had little charisma, he did have the well-oiled machine of the Muslim Brotherhood in his corner and could have proved an unstoppable force.

Two frontrunners remain: Former Foreign Minister and Dean of the Arab League, the secular Amr Moussa, rated as the leader of the pack in a recent poll; moderate Islamist reformer and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership Abdel Menim Abol Fotuh, who has gotten high marks from voters looking for a progressive religious candidate with vision. In an abundance of caution, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist group have both fielded second, less-problematic candidates who are less popular but still in the running.

Upon our arrival to Cairo airport Saturday night, nonplussed  passengers and airport workers had just heard the news. They huddled in small groups debating the ramifications. Most were confused but were inclined to now give their vote to Islamist reformer, Abol Fotuh.

"We need a man of religion,” baggage handler Ossama Fatouh said. “The old regime supported oppression, that's all. I will support Abol Fotuh. There is a slogan in the demonstrations, the people want the application of God's law."

Tarek Bahairy, project manager, lamented the banning of his personal favorite, Salafist Abu Ismail. "It’s bad news because we believed in this man.” His vote will also go to Abol Fotuh, he said.

"What is the law that allowed them to stop (Muslim Brotherhood candidate) al Shater," demanded baggage handler Kareem Mahmoud. "It’s understood if they want to eliminate people from the old regime. I think I will vote for Abol Fotuh."

"I am totally confused", agreed Mahmoud Ezz, mechanical engineer. "There are some legal issues for Suleiman but why did they eliminate al Shater? They must state their reasons."

He's waiting until the dust settles to make a decision.

People have come to realize that in Egypt's fast-paced election season, it’s not over till the fat lady sings. Would-be candidates have 48 hours to petition the decision to the election committee, whose binding decision will be made by April 26.

NBC’s Taha Belal also contributed to this report. 

Reports on some of the controversial candidates who have now been banned:

In Egypt, entry of ex-spy chief ups the ante in presidential election

US tie could foil conservative Islamist Egyptian presidential candidate

Muslim Brotherhood shocks Egypt with presidential run