Former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman enters the presidential election committee building in Cairo on April 7, 2012, to register his name for the upcoming presidential elections on May 23-24. / Getty Images
(AP) CAIRO - Hosni Mubarak's former spy chief said in comments published Thursday that he decided to run for president to prevent Islamists from turning Egypt into a "religious state," and warned that the country would be internationally isolated if one of them won the presidency.
Omar Suleiman's comments in a newspaper interview came just hours before the Islamist-dominated parliament passed a bill that strips senior Mubarak regime figures of their political rights for 10 years. The bill was hurriedly put together this week in a bid to disqualify Suleiman, who briefly served as Mubarak's vice president, from running for president.
The law would only come into effect if the military council that took over from Mubarak when he stepped down 14 months ago ratifies it. The generals have yet to speak publicly on the issue, but they are not likely to ratify or reject the bill before the election commission issues a final list of presidential candidates, which is expected later this month.
The election for the first president since the ousted Mubarak is shaping into a showdown between Suleiman and Islamists led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which announced on March 31 that its deputy leader, Khairat el-Shater, would run.
The Brotherhood and other Islamists plan a large protest on Friday against Suleiman's candidacy, the first major attempt to move the competition into the street.
The presidential election is due on May 23-24, with a possible runoff on June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21, less than two weeks before the July 1 deadline promised by the military to hand over power.
But a series of political crises has thrown an already turbulent transition to civilian rule deeper into confusion.
In the last two weeks, a court suspended the work of an Islamist-dominated, 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution on the grounds its makeup violated the spirit of a constitutional declaration governing its formation. The eligibility of at least six of the 23 presidential hopefuls is being challenged in the courts, while an increasingly bitter dispute between the military and the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group, threatens to boil over and derail the entire political process. On top of the political chaos, security in the country remains tenuous and the economy is faltering.
Suleiman told the weekly El-Fagr newspaper that the Brotherhood's fielding of a presidential candidate "horrified" Egyptians.
The Brotherhood's nomination of el-Shater reversed an earlier promise not to run a candidate. Suleiman announced his own bid a week later.
In the interview, Suleiman noted that the Brotherhood already controls just under half of parliament's seats and is the chamber's largest single bloc. Including ultraconservatives known as Salafis, the Islamists hold 70 percent of the legislature.
Suleiman warned that the Brotherhood would control all state institutions if it wins the presidency.
"If Egypt falls under the rule of (Islamist) groups, it will suffer isolation and its people will suffer from the inability to communicate with others," he said.
"It is my belief that those who demand that I run, like a majority of this nation's citizens, are in a predicament and indeed the whole state is in a predicament, especially after the Brotherhood decided to field one of its leaders for the presidency after it pledged not to," Suleiman, a 75-year-old career army officer, said in the interview.
"That change struck horror in the souls of members of Egyptian society. If the Brotherhood's candidate wins the presidential election, Egypt will be turned into a religious state. All state institutions will be controlled by the Brotherhood."