A former strongman of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime has announced his presidential candidacy, shaking up an already heated race that is emerging as a contest between two longtime rivals — former regime officials and Islamists who have surged in influence.
Former Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman, one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak’s regime, had said earlier this week that he would not run, but he said he changed his mind after hundreds of people rallied in Cairo to support a bid.
The Friday announcement drew outrage from youth activists who spearheaded the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak last year and have since been disappointed by the continued influence of -members of his ex-regime. Liberals and revolutionaries have been largely squeezed out of the presidential race. Some have vowed to boycott the May 23-24 balloting altogether.
“I find it incomprehensible that one of the top figures of the old regime, who should be on trial right now as a criminal, is actually considering running for president,” said Mohammed Radwan, who took part in last year’s mass protests.
The 75-year-old former general must get 30,000 signatures by today’s official filing deadline or the backing of at least 30 parliamentarians in order to run. Suleiman could be the ruling generals’ preferred candidate, someone who would try to keep the old political system intact and protect the privileges of the military.
“This is a bullet to the Egyptian revolution,” liberal Free Egyptians Party spokesman Ahmed Khair said. “His candidacy means that the revolution is not moving down its natural path and it means that the Egyptian citizen will the pay the price.”
Suleiman, who appeared on TV on Feb. 11 last year to announce that Mubarak would step down and hand power to the country’s military leaders, served as Egypt’s intelligence director for 18 years at a time when the regime was accused of carrying out torture and human rights abuses against dissenters. He also was longtime a confidant of Mubarak.
That makes him suspect in the eyes of many Egyptians, who had hoped to stamp out the old regime altogether and usher in a transition to democracy.
A win for Suleiman would largely keep control of Egypt in the hands of the military. Egypt’s last four presidents have all been military men.
His decision was also the latest surprise in the first presidential race since Mubarak was ousted after nearly 30 years in power.
Last week, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized Islamist movement, named its chief strategist and financier Khairat el-Shater as a candidate, reversing an earlier pledge not to participate in the election. The long-outlawed Brotherhood already controls about half of the seats in parliament and would completely dominate the political arena if el-Shater wins.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party posted Suleiman’s announcement to run for president on its official Facebook page, with five photos of him smiling and shaking hands with top Israeli officials to the backdrop of the Israeli flag.
“This is a serious threat to the revolution,” a Brotherhood statement said on Friday.
Suleiman, who was appointed vice president shortly after the uprising began, is well known and respected by US officials and has traveled to Washington many times. He was the point person on both the US relationship and the Israel-Egyptian relationship under Mubarak, once a close US ally.