CAIRO, (AFP) — Egyptian Islamist sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail kicked off his candidacy for the presidency on Friday with a large motorcade that headed to the electoral committee headquarters in Cairo.
Witnesses said dozens of vehicles packed with the ultra-conservative’s supporters left a mosque with the statutory 30,000 endorsements from citizens required to register as a candidate.
Outside the mosque, they chanted “Look Obama, Sheikh Hazem is a knowledgeable cleric,” referring to US President Barack Obama.
Abu Ismail, who advocates a strict interpretation of Islam similar to the one practised in Saudi Arabia, has become a familiar sight in Cairo, with his posters adorning many cars and micro buses.
The presidential election scheduled for May will mark the beginning of a handover of power by the ruling military to an elected civilian leader, following last year’s popular uprising that overthrew veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Abu Ismail will compete with more moderate Islamist candidates as well as former regime figures such as Amr Mussa, an ex-foreign minister who headed the Arab League, and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.
Islamists have made big strides since Mubarak’s ouster, winning majorities in elections to both houses of parliament.
The most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is considering going back on a decision not to field its own candidate for president and may nominate one of its leaders for the race.