CAIRO: Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood rallied its followers for mass protests against plans by ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's former intelligence chief to run for president, warning moves would scupper the country's unfinished revolution.
The country's most organised political group said on Wednesday that its members would rally on Friday to "protect the revolution" from former officials from Mubarak's era who may make a comeback via the ballot box.
A last-minute decision by former Mubarak aide Omar Suleiman to join the race has redrawn the electoral map just weeks before voting the presidential contest, set to begin in May.
Members of parliament, which is dominated by the Brotherhood, are scrambling to pass a law to bar officials who served during Mubarak's final decade in office from running.
Suleiman, 74, served for years as head of military intelligence and the General Intelligence Service. Mubarak named him vice president in January last year during the uprising in which he was ousted and tried to transfer power to Suleiman before quitting in disgrace.
"This is an attempt by the remnants of the regime to try to bring back the fallen era. It is seeking to thwart the revolution and return to the era before January 25," Brotherhood Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein said in comments published on the movement's website.
The tug-of-war comes as the Brotherhood's presidential candidate, 61-year-old Khairat al-Shater, risks disqualification for being a former convict.
The Brotherhood's lawyer has said the military council, to which Mubarak handed power, had lifted convictions against Shater handed down by military courts in 1995 and 2007.
He was jailed for seven years in the 2007 case but was freed with many other Brotherhood members in 2011 after serving four and a half years of the sentence.
Disputes remain over whether Shater can run for president because the pardon did not clear his name. A court case had been filed seeking to bar him. The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party even said it was fielding a reserve candidate in case Shater's candidacy papers were rejected.
The judge hearing the case against Shater stepped aside on Wednesday, saying the judicial panel was "embarrassed to continue" after apparent tensions with the Brotherhood's lawyers.
This may delay a final decision on whether Shater can run and adds additional confusion to an already heated election.
Shater has denied any legal obstacles to his bid and called Suleiman's run for Egypt's highest office an "insult to the revolution" which, if successful, would trigger a second nationwide revolt.
But Mubarak's former confidant is a dark horse who wields political clout and is likely to pick up votes from millions of Egyptians longing for stability and security.
Suleiman is the second close associate of Mubarak to join the race. Ahmed Shafiq, who was the ousted president's last prime minister and has publicly praised the former ruler in media appearances, also is running.
Parliament held a special session on Wednesday to discuss a proposed draft law that would bar any senior official from Mubarak's final decade in office from the presidency, the vice-presidency or the post of head of cabinet for at least 10 years, which would target Suleiman and Shafiq.
The original wording of the proposed law was restricted to five years but a late-night change on Tuesday could draw in Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief who served as Mubarak's foreign minister before taking up the new post in June 2001.
Shafiq and Suleiman also face disqualification by court order. A suit seeking to bar them from running will resume on April 24.
"It may be true that our revolution was peaceful, that it did not put up nooses for those it rose against or set up revolutionary courts," Mohamed Al-Beltagy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told parliament.
"But it cannot be a naive revolution to the extent that it would allow those it rose against to lead the march to change," he said in an impassioned speech to the assembly.
The debate in parliament focused, however, on whether passing such legislation was constitutional and some fear its wording was vague and could be abused.
Some Egyptians and analysts fear the Islamists in parliament are using their majority to influence the presidential race and clear the way for their own candidates to win. But the moves to bar Suleiman and Shafiq enjoys the support of many activists.
"How can it be sensible for those running for the presidency to be the representatives of the former regime, the ones who worked to protect it?" youth group April 6 said in a statement.
"We will bring down the system of the Pharaoh and bring down his soldiers," it said, in a reference to Mubarak and his aides.