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Activists slam Suleiman's last-minute bid for highest office

Political activists voice anger, frustration over surprise presidential bid by ousted president's long-time intelligence chief

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 8 Apr 2012
Omar Suleiman
Former Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman is escorted by police after he submitted his candidacy papers at the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, 7 April 2012 (Photo: AP)
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"Angry," "frustrated" and "insulted" were some of the words used by activists who spoke to Ahram Online Sunday afternoon as Omar Suleiman, intelligence chief under ousted president Hosni Mubarak (and briefly vice-president during last year's uprising), was entering the headquarters of the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) to officially register his presidential candidacy.

Suleiman, or "the general" as he has been known for years, is seen as a continuation of the Mubarak regime by these activists, most of whom participated in last year's January 25 Revolution, and many of whom lost friends during the 18-day popular uprising.

"Remember what happened before Mubarak stepped down on 11 February and delegated his powers to the military. The day before, Mubarak had intended to delegate his authorities to Suleiman, and we all said 'no' and began walking in huge marches from Tahrir Square to the presidential residence in Heliopolis," said activist Ahmed Saad.

"It's unwise of Suleiman to think that we're going to turn a blind eye to what he's trying to do now; he's trying to reverse the tide of history, and this is impossible," Saad added.

The activist went on to say that discussions were currently underway on how to react. He spoke of calls for another million-man march on Friday in Tahrir Square to protest the Suleiman nomination.

"We're also lobbying for a draft resolution presented by [MvP] Essam Sultan for Parliament to forbid key Mubarak regime figures from running in presidential elections," said activist Khaled Ahmed.

According to Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, another activist, efforts are underway to convince certain key candidates to unite on a single ticket so as to ensure Suleiman's defeat.

"It's obvious that ruling military council wants Suleiman to win. We had thought it would be back Amr Moussa [former foreign minister and Arab League chief] after it discovered that Ahmed Shafiq [Mubarak's long-time associate and briefly prime minister] failed to prove that he could mobilise public support, but no – they want Suleiman, and we're going to make it difficult for Suleiman to win," Abdel-Rahman said.

According to Abdel-Rahman, the main objective now is to get ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh to join Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi on a single ticket, as president and vice-president.

Both Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi are already registered as presidential candidates. Neither, however, has issued a statement to suggest that he would be willing to serve as vice-president for the other. But sources close to both campaigns say the two candidates have been approached about the issue.

The same sources, however, pointed to both candidates' refusal to run as vice-president in partnership with Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency who pulled out from the race in January due to a lower-than-expected public approval rating, despite otherwise firm support from revolutionary political forces.

This, said the same sources within the Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi campaigns, does not necessarily mean that all such proposals for collaboration will be rejected out of hand.  

Meanwhile, some members of Parliament told Ahram Online that they were aiming for a better deal.

"With all due respect, a ticket featuring Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi cannot beat Suleiman," said one MP. "What we're proposing is a ticket with Moussa as president and both Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi as vices. Let's be realistic – Moussa leads all serious polls."

The MP admitted that such a deal would be "challenging" since, at the end of the day, Moussa – who served for ten years as Mubarak's foreign minister – is associated, "whether rightly or wrongly," with Suleiman, Shafiq and anyone who served under the ousted president.

"We're trying to argue our case on the basis of the falling out between Mubarak and Moussa [in 2001], which prompted Mubarak to kick Moussa upstairs to the Arab League," the same MP said.

Moussa campaign officials neither confirmed nor denied that any offers had been made to the ex-Arab League chief in this regard. Moussa himself, however, recently posited that the ruling military council was pressuring a reluctant Suleiman to enter the race in order to take on Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater.

On Sunday, just before Suleiman registered his candidacy, Mohamed Morsi, president of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), registered his own candidacy as a possible backup for El-Shater, who officially registered a couple of days ago.

The nomination of El-Shater, deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, is challenged by complicated legal circumstances that could disqualify him from the race due to the short interval between his release from prison and his nomination. El-Shater, along with numerous other key Brotherhood figures, had been rounded up and jailed under Mubarak.

Ayman Nour, a liberal MP who was also jailed under the Mubarak regime, had been temporarily disqualified due to similar circumstances.  "This is why we decided that Morsi should run," said one FJP source.

The presence of a Muslim Brotherhood/FJP candidate, especially El-Shater, will make it virtually impossible for Abul-Fotouh to amass badly-needed support from the rank and file of the Brotherhood, which expelled him last year over his decision to run for president in defiance of the group's stated policy of not fielding a candidate.

This calculation has prompted the group of liberal-Islamist MPs hoping to fix a winning ticket to pressure both Abul-Fotouh and Sabbahi to accept the idea of joining forces with Moussa – or else face a scenario in which Suleiman would make it to the runoff vote with the Brotherhood candidate.

During last year's uprising, the 77-year-old Suleiman had said that he had no plans to contest the presidency. And on Wednesday, Suleiman issued a statement reiterating his decision not to run "despite appeals made by supporters." On Friday afternoon, however, Mubarak's one-time vice-president took observers by surprise when he abruptly announced his intention to vie for Egypt's top office.

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