While Suleiman's popularity is debatable, Abu Ismail and Shater would have been clear electoral powerhouses. Abu Ismail's posters are still omnipresent around Cairo -- he had become the primary boogeyman for Egypt's secularist activists, many of whom didn't conceal their glee at his downfall due to a modified "birther" scandal. Shater was essentially the frontrunner from the moment the Brotherhood announced it would renege on its oft-stated promise and field its own presidential candidate. In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Shater called his disqualification "both funny and sad," but gave no indication he would contest the decision any further.
The remaining contenders are unlikely to provoke the same sort of polarization as those caught up in the electoral commission's cull. Handicapping their electoral odds remains a murky endeavor, but each will now be auditioning for the various constituencies left adrift by the commission. Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and former Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh now resume their frontrunner status almost by default. Fringe Islamists like Muhammed Selim al-Awa will work to draw in Abu Ismail and Shater voters. Former Air Force commander and Mubarak's final prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, will similarly try to appeal to the stability/anti-Islamist bloc that might otherwise have voted for Suleiman. Perhaps the only candidate left who qualifies as a secularist without regime ties is longtime Nasserist MP Hamdeen Sabahi, who boasts opposition credentials dating back to his days as a student activist under the late President Anwar Sadat.
But the Muslim Brotherhood is still in this race, and shouldn't be counted out. Knowing in advance that Shater's disqualification was a possibility, the organization nominated a second candidate, Muhammad Morsi. A longtime member of the Brotherhood's leadership ranks, Morsi emerged as one of the public faces of the organization after the revolution as head of the Freedom and Justice Party. While he doesn't have nearly the stature or charisma of Shater, Morsi will enjoy the full and formidable backing of the Brotherhood. After a solid year of publicly swearing it had no interest in the presidency, the vaunted Islamist organization seems to badly want the executive branch.
Indeed, Egyptian politics on the eve of the presidential election is increasingly dominated by an all or nothing logic -- the rival camps appear disinterested in sharing power in the name of post-revolutionary solidarity. So far, judging from the parliamentary results and the increasingly messy process of drafting the new constitution, all sides in the Egyptian playing field seem to be playing a zero-sum game at a time when the country desperately needs some big-tent consensus building.
At Shater's pre-disqualification rally in Shubra Al-Kheima, one of his supporters argued passionately that the Brotherhood needed to control both the legislative and executive branches in order to counter an active and pernicious counter-revolution.
"Without executive power, it wouldn't matter what the [Brotherhood-controlled] parliament did. They just won't implement the law," said Muhammed Aql, a 27 year-old accountant in a pinstriped Oxford shirt. "To ask the Brotherhood to protect the revolution in those circumstances would be like tying a man's hands together and ordering him to start swimming."