The schedule gives short notice to an opposition that has complained that conditions of the vote bar serious challenge to President Hosni Mubarak.

"The presidential election will be held on the first Wednesday of September, which will be September 7," a high-ranking official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"The electoral commission will convene on Sunday to decide on a date for the registration of candidates," the official added. The registration process could begin two days after the commission meeting, it said.

Another senior Egyptian official confirmed the 7 September date.

The date is a little earlier than officials had previously suggested, but the sources gave no reason for moving the vote forward.

Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, is widely expected to run in the elections and win a fifth term in office.

Constitutional amendment 

A referendum in May approved
contested polls in Egypt

Egypt's first multi-party presidential vote comes after Mubarak's proposal for an amendment to the constitution allowing for contested polls was approved by referendum in May.

Egyptians had only been able to say yes or no to a single parliament-appointed candidate.

Opposition parties and observers have said the conditions of the vote and the restrictions imposed on candidates rendered impossible any serious challenge to Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

According to a new presidential electoral law that was passed by parliament last month, the campaign will last three weeks.

Desire to contest

Several opposition leaders and rights activists have voiced their desire to run in the polls.

The front-running challenger is Ayman Nour, who leads the Ghad (Tomorrow) party and is on trial on charges of forgery. Nour says the charges are aimed at discrediting him ahead of the polls.

Ayman Nour is the front-running
challenger to Mubarak

Among the other candidates are Talaat Sadat, the nephew of Mubarak's assassinated predecessor Anwar Sadat and a member of the Al-Ahrar (Free) party.

Nawal Saadawi, a feminist activist who had expressed her wish to contest the presidential elections announced on Sunday that she was dropping out of the race for an election she described as unfair.

Election monitoring

Several Egyptian groups have demanded the right for members of the civil society to monitor the election, charging that previous presidential elections had been rigged by the ruling party.

In a report released earlier this month, Egyptian judges said the 25 May referendum organised to approve the poll reform had been plagued by widespread fraud.

The judges' syndicate drafted an indicting document reporting that the official returns showing more than 80% support for the controversial election ground rules were rigged.

The report noted huge discrepancies in turnout between polling stations manned by observers and those that were not. The judges also document cases of intimidation against polling officials by the security services.