Less than a week after Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would field a candidate for May’s presidential election, the country’s former vice president Omar Suleiman said that he would enter the race if supporters completed the necessary paperwork before Sunday.
Suleiman was Hosni Mubarak’s spy chief for almost two decades before the ousted president appointed him his deputy last year in the face of widespread public demonstrations against Egypt’s single party rule. At the time, Suleiman assured ABC News that he had no plans to replace the octogenarian strongman.
Suleiman’s is the second surprise announcement in anticipation of Egypt’s first free presidential election in over half a century.
The Muslim Brotherhood, reneging on an earlier pledge not to contest the presidency, presented millionaire businessman Khairat al-Shater as its candidate for the highest office last week. In league with minority parties, the political wing of the Islamist organization now commands a majority in parliament. Its members also dominate a special committee that is tasked with rewriting the Egyptian constitution.
Shater is a leading Brotherhood strategist whose views are said to be moderate for an Islamist if conservative. He has dismissed suggestions that he had connived with the military council that currently rules Egypt to undermine the popularity of other religious candidate.
According to an opinion poll that was conducted before Shater entered the race, Islamist hardliner Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was in second place for the presidency, trailing former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
Moussa is expected to profit from his high name recognition. Compared to Suleiman, he is less associated with the old regime. Moussa was Mubarak’s foreign minister during the 1990s but the president nominated him to chair the Arab League reportedly to stave off the possibility of Moussa challenging him.
The Brotherhood’s candidate could do well if people vote for the party more than the man. Shater is less of a public figure that Moussa but does represent a break with the past. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned as a political organization during Mubarak’s reign but provided food aid and health services to Egypt’s poor.
The army, for its part, insists that it will not have a political role in the presidential vote. It has promises to hand power to the next president July 1. Analyst and many ordinary Egyptians suspect that the powerful military will continue to exert an influence behind the scenes regardless.