(Photo: Reuters / Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Supporters of Omar Suleiman, Egypt's former vice president, wave Egyptian flags and signs bearing his likeness as they gather in Cairo's Abassiya Square on Friday.
Omar Suleiman, Egypt's vice president under Hosni Mubarak from Jan. 29 to Feb. 11 last year, has declared his intention to run as a candidate in the country's presidential election this spring.
The decision comes two days ahead of the closing date for nominations. A formal announcement is pending the registration of the required 30,000 supporters, Reuters reported.
Suleiman, 75, was a powerful member of Mubarak's regime. For almost all of the two decades before the Egyptian revolution, he directed the General Intelligence Directorate and was the head of several spy groups. Supporters saw him as a quiet pragmatist, skilled diplomat, and competent mediator.
Suleiman was promoted to vice president in January 2011 in one of Mubarak's last-ditch efforts to appease protesters and avoid his overthrow.
Since the ouster of Mubarak, the military has led a transitional government. The Egyptian people are eager to put the days of Mubarak's regime behind them by participating in the country's first-ever democratic presidential election, which is scheduled to begin in May.
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To many, Suleiman's candidacy is an affront to the very principles that motivated the Egyptian revolution in the first place. His association with the ousted regime, his record of brutal crackdowns on Islamist groups, and the alleged human-rights violations he committed while working with the U.S. CIA to interrogate suspected terrorists all make him a political pariah in the eyes of many Egyptians.
Still, the announcement of Suleiman's candidacy was met with some public shows of support -- a few small crowds rallied in Cairo, chanting his name. Those who back Suleiman see him as an experienced and effective politician who presents a tolerable alternative to the other two top candidates, both of whom are Islamist. Many Egyptians would prefer a secular president to lead their new democracy, and are supporting Suleiman despite his ties to the oppressive Mubarak regime.
Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, a Salafi Islamist, is a competing front-runner. He is a socially ultraconservative candidate who has promised to gradually implement sharia law, and his foreign-policy platform is nationalist to the point of isolationism. His supporters are among the most ardently vocal, although many liberal voters dread his ascension. On Thursday, his candidacy was endangered by an allegation that his mother was an American citizen. Abu-Ismail has denied the claims.
Presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater, a more moderate Islamist, has been tacitly supported by U.S. officials. He is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Egyptian political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, already enjoys considerable power after winning a plurality in parliamentary elections last winter. Many voters are wary of Shater's candidacy, since an FJP presidency combined with a parliamently plurality could constitute a dangerous consolidation of political power.
Suleiman, who had recently denied he would seek the presidency, said he is running in response to popular demand. "The call you have directed is an order, and I am a soldier who has never disobeyed an order," he said in a statement quoted by Reuters. "Your call and your faith in my ability is an honor."
His opponents have raised concerns that his ties to the military may have a corrupting effect on the coming election, but his supporters are glad to have an alternative to Islamist candidates. "I will vote for Omar Suleiman if he runs," an Egyptian voter told the Christian Science Monitor last week. "The Brotherhood took the parliament; I don't want them to take the presidency, too. Suleiman is experienced, and he can make Egypt stable again."
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