CAIRO – The elimination of three of the main contenders from Egypt’s presidential race has eroded the chances of an Islamist candidate to seize the country’s top job.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful political group to emerge from last year’s uprising, finds itself increasingly in a bind.

It is unable to exercise the power of its electoral wins so far and is jostling with the ruling generals and liberal and secular groups that drove the uprising but now fear religious domination of politics.

The Brotherhood was outraged over the election commission’s decision late Saturday to bar its chief strategist and leading choice for president, Khairat el-Shater. It threatened more protests like a large march on Friday that drew tens of thousands of Islamists to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

“This is a political decision not a legal one, said Murad Mohammed Ali, a spokesman for el-Shater’s campaign. “This commission is politicized and we will exert all political pressures to restore our rights.”

The election commission disqualified 10 candidates from the May 23-24 vote, including el-Shater and a popular, more hardline Islamist from another party, Hazem Abu Ismail.

Omar Suleiman, who was ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s longtime spy chief and only vice president, was also barred. He was believed to have been backed by the ruling military council that took power after Mubarak’s ouster and is headed by Mubarak’s longtime defense minister.

The shakeout left three front-runners and two of them are stiff competitors of the Muslim Brotherhood — former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and a prominent Brotherhood defector, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. The other front-runner is the Brotherhood’s second choice for the presidency, Mohammed Morsi, who was nominated as a back-up in case el-Shater got eliminated.

The Brotherhood is also suffering from a public backlash over its decision to field a presidential candidate after promising it would not do so. Critics say the group has gotten too greedy for power and Suleiman, in the opening salvo of his campaign, warned the Brotherhood was trying to turn Egypt into a religious state.

The electoral commission, appointed by the military rulers to oversee the vote, gave the candidates until today to contest their disqualification.