Thousands of Islamists flooded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to protest the candidacies of Mubarak-era officials in an upcoming presidential election and to press their demand that the ousted president’s former intelligence chief and others be barred from running.

The decision by the onetime spy chief and vice president Omar Suleiman to throw his hat into the race last week prompted expressions of outrage across the political spectrum, from Islamists to leftists, liberals and revolutionaries.

But in a sign of the profound political polarization in Egypt ahead of the historic May 23 vote, liberals and revolutionary youth groups largely stayed away from Friday’s protest, which was spearheaded by the country’s most powerful Islamist force, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party. They called instead for a separate march next Friday to voice the same grievance.

Protesters who had walked from across the capital and traveled by bus from outlying provinces marched through the square holding up portraits of Suleiman depicted as Satan. Other pictures showed the former spy chief, who was also Hosni Mubarak’s point man on relations with Israel, shaking hands with a number of current and former high-level Israeli officials.

“The revolution is being stolen from us,” said Inas Abdel Rawab, 35. “I trust the Muslim Brotherhood, and I trust the Islamic groups. I feel they are not our enemy. The tools of the old regime are our enemies.”

The decision by the onetime spy chief and vice president Omar Suleiman to throw his hat into the race last week prompted expressions of outrage across the political spectrum, from Islamists to leftists, liberals and revolutionaries. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

Parliament passed a bill this week to ban top officials from Mubarak’s government from holding public office. But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Mubarak-era defense minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, must ratify the bill within 30 days for it to become law — a prospect that is seen as unlikely.

The council could also send the bill back to the parliament, which can then pass it with a two-thirds vote or send it to Egypt’s high court to decide whether it is constitutional, legal experts said.

Away from the chants in Tahrir Square on Friday, taxi driver Abdel Salam Noamen, 36, shook his head over the demonstrators’ demand.

“This is wrong. This is discrimination,” he said. “The ballot box decides. Why is it their right to say no to a man because he worked in the government? We all were part of the past regime in some way. Not all of us are bad.”