President Hosni Mubarak, 77, has been in power since 1981 and is widely expected to seek a fifth six-year term.

 

Under the timetable decided by the election commission and reported by the state news agency MENA on Sunday, he does not need to declare his hand until 4 August, the last day for filing nominations.

   

The campaign will run from 17 August to 4 September, it added.

   

In the event that no candidate wins at least 50% of valid votes, Egyptians will choose between the top two candidates in a second round of voting on 17 September.

 

Disagreements

   

The commission itself was a bone of contention between the ruling party and the opposition during the past five months of political wrangling over the political future of Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world.

   

Opposition groups demanded full judicial supervision of the elections. But the constitutional amendment created a hybrid body of 10 members, five judges and five "public personalities" chosen by the two houses of parliament.

 

Ayman Nur is the opposition
Ghad party candidate

Unlike in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, the decisions of the commission will be immune from judicial review.

   

The main leftist opposition group, the Tagammu party, decided last week to boycott the presidential election, saying the authorities had not done enough to ensure impartiality.

   

But the commission said it would monitor the state media to ensure equal access for all candidates and would intervene if it established any violations.

 

Meanwhile, Mubarak is unlikely to face a serious challenge because a constitutional amendment in May set tough conditions for independent candidates, and some of the political parties have decided not to field candidates.

 

Abolished

   

The amendment abolished the old system of referendums on a single candidate chosen by parliament, where the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) holds more than 90% of the seats.

   

The most prominent opposition politician still planning to run is Ayman Nur of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) party, who was detained in January and is on trial on forgery charges. Nur says the charges are a politically motivated attempt to discredit him.

   

The Ghad party's ruling council voted for Nur as presidential candidate on Sunday by a majority of 27 to 10, party official Wail Nawara said in a text message.