Mubarak-era spy chief says no return to old ways if he wins election

Supporters of former Egyptian vice'president Omar Suleiman rally in Cairo. Picture: AP
Supporters of former Egyptian vice'president Omar Suleiman rally in Cairo. Picture: AP
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Hosni Mubarak’s former vice-president and spy chief has claimed he will not attempt to “reinvent” the regime of his former mentor if he is elected president of Egypt.

Omar Suleiman, 75, who was this weekend confirmed as a formal candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for 23-24 May, told the state-owned Al-Akhbar daily yesterday that restoring security would be his top priority as president. Next on his list would be the economy, social justice and reinforcing freedom and democracy.

He also sought to distance himself from the old regime and said the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down nearly 14 months ago has created a “new reality” that cannot be reversed.

Mr Suleiman said: “The clock cannot be turned back, the revolution laid down a new reality that cannot be ignored. And no-one, no matter who he is, will be able to reinvent a regime that fell, folded and was rejected and revolted against.”

Mr Suleiman’s candidacy sets up a probable showdown in the elections with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group, which has been banned for six decades and which is fielding its former deputy leader as a candidate.

The Brotherhood has blasted Mr Suleiman’s candidacy. Its contender, Khairat el-Shater, yesterday denounced what he said was a “reproduction of the old regime” and warned that any attempt to rig the vote would unleash fresh street protests.

Mr Shater added: “This is an offence to the revolution and a failure to realise the changes that have happened.”

Mr Suleiman served as Mubarak’s intelligence chief for close to 20 years, a key position in a regime defined by corruption, police abuse and wholesale human rights violations. He also shared his mentor’s foreign policy goals and his enmity of Islamists.

He was appointed vice-president during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in a last-gasp effort to save the regime. Mubarak-era generals took over the reins of power after the president stepped down on 11 February, 2011, and Mr Suleiman disappeared from the public eye until resurfacing last week.

In the interview, Mr Suleiman projected himself as an opposition figure within the Mubarak regime, saying he had objected to many policies, laws and “what transpired” in 2010 parliamentary elections, probably the most rigged vote since Egypt’s 1953 overthrow of the monarchy. He said: “Those who think that my candidacy for president means reinventing the former regime must realise that being the head of the General Intelligence Agency or vice-president for a few days does not mean that I was part of an institution against which people revolted.”

Mr Suleiman said he has received death threats since he announced his candidacy on Friday, but said: “Those who think that these threats will make me change my position or force me to abandon my candidacy for the presidency are deluding themselves.”

He also said he will not free Mubarak or any of his aides if he became president. Mubarak, 83, is on trial for his life on charges of complicity in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising. He is also facing corruption charges along with his two sons, businessman Alaa and Gamal, his one-time heir apparent who ran the ruling party.