REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Thousands of Islamists marched to Tahrir Square on Friday to support Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail, whose candidacy is in jeopardy over revelations this week that his deceased mother was a U.S. citizen.
Protesters chanted against the ruling military council, which they claim is behind an ongoing "conspiracy" against Ismail. "Down, down with military rule; Abu Ismail is a red line," they shouted. "The people want Hazem Abu Ismail" and "the people want implementation of Allah's sharia."
The protesters said the Egyptian army and the U.S want to force Ismail out of the race over fears that if he wins, Islamic law would deeply influence public life and Egypt's foreign policy could be dramatically changed.
"The army is afraid that someone like Abu Ismail would become president," said Shadia Youssef. "They know that he'd bring them and members of [Hosni] Mubarak's regime, who they are trying to protect, to account" for their crimes.
"Abu Ismail said before that it is a shame to have normal ties with Israel," Youssef added. "Israel and the U.S are one thing, and that's why America is taking part in defaming him now."
The march came a day after the Interior Ministry confirmed that Ismail's mother, Nawal Abdel Aziz Nour, had become a U.S citizen.
The ministry informed the presidential elections committee, which is checking the background of all candidates to make sure that none of them violates the Egyptian law prohibiting citizens with foreign or dual-national parents from running for presidency. A decision on Ismail is expected next week.
Ismail initially denied the report, stressing that his mother only obtained an American green card to teach Islamic sciences while visiting his sister, who is married to a U.S citizen and lives in Santa Monica. The matter has embarrassed Ismail, a lawyer and preacher whose campaign echoes with strong anti-Western rhetoric.
He issued another statement on his campaign's Facebook page Thursday, describing the furor as a "foreign and internal plot" to ruin his candidacy. He has filed a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry asking it to provide certificates that his mother had changed her citizenship.
"Abu Ismail is not ignorant or stupid to nominate himself while his mother is a U.S citizen," said Eid Ahmed Abbas, an Ismail campaign worker. "This is a plot involving the Egyptian intelligence, the CIA, Omar Suleiman and the head of the ruling military, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi."
Suleiman, a former chief intelligence official and vice president under deposed President Mubarak, announced Friday that he was back in the race for president. He had dropped out this week, and his quick re-emergence added more intrigue to the nation's politics ahead of next month's elections.
Other candidates who served under Mubarak include former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik.
If Ismail is disqualified from the race, it would likely help unify the Islamic vote around the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Khairat Shater, a multimillionaire and onetime political prisoner. Shater is more religiously conservative that the third leading Islamic candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member.
Photo: Abu Ismail supporters marching toward Tahrir Square on Friday. Credit: AFP/ Getty Images