Suleiman lashes out at claims he is backed by army

MK Ben-Eliezer says ex-spy chief is Israel's best hope; Analyst: Egypt will remain unstable no matter who takes helm.

Egyptian presidential candidate Omar Suleiman 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Egyptian presidential candidate Omar Suleiman 370
(photo credit: reuters)
Hosni Mubarak’s former intelligence chief said Egypt’s military rulers do not support his bid for the presidency and accused Islamists of sending him death threats, an Egyptian newspaper reported on Monday.
Omar Suleiman, 74, announced his candidacy on Friday and showed he still wields political clout by collecting around 72,000 signatures of eligible voters in one day, more than twice the 30,000 required. The deadline for submitting signatures was Sunday.
Suleiman’s military background suggested to many that he had the backing of the ruling army council that took over from Mubarak in February last year.
MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) said Monday that from Israel’s perspective, Suleiman would be the best candidate to take the reins in Cairo.
Speaking to Israel Radio, the former defense minister said Suleiman is a patriot who “loves Egypt” and views relations with Israel as a “cornerstone” of Cairo’s strategic policy.
For years Ben-Eliezer, a native Arabic speaker born in Iraq, enjoyed a close relationship with Mubarak, and said he had been in touch with the deposed leader “every day for 20 to 30 minutes” during the revolution that ended his three-decade rule over a year ago.
Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Israel has to accept that none of the current presidential candidates offer much hope for a stable Egypt.
“Israelis need to be prepared for an Egypt that’s going to be a highly unstable place in the years to come – that’s obviously the case if an Islamist takes power but also if it’s someone like Suleiman,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“I think the challenge for Washington and Jerusalem is to figure out what their respective interests are in Egypt, and how to protect those few things in what will probably be years of transition,” he said.
“If a new Mubarak comes to power, there will be many in Egypt who will view the government as illegitimate and continue to act against it.
That’s not an outcome that serves either the US or Israeli interests.”
In his interview Monday, Suleiman said the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has no connection to his decision to join the presidential race.
“As soon as my nomination for the presidency was announced, I received on my personal mobile and through some people close to me death threats and messages saying, ‘we will take revenge’ from members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups,” he told the state-run al- Akhbar newspaper.
Suleiman, made vice president by Mubarak in the last days of his three-decade rule, symbolizes that era’s tough security regime and poses a threat to Islamists, who were routinely harassed and arrested during Mubarak’s era, and to liberals, who spearheaded Mubarak’s ouster. But his candidacy might appeal to some Egyptians hoping for an end to political instability.
His 11th-hour decision to run for president came shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement long suppressed by Mubarak and now a majority in parliament, broke a pledge not to field a candidate and nominated its deputy leader, Khairat al-Shater, for head of state.
In an interview with Reuters on Sunday, Shater denounced Suleiman’s bid for his former boss’s job.
“I consider his entry an insult to the revolution and the Egyptian people,” said Shater, who said he spent 12 years in jail during the Mubarak era. “Omar Suleiman has made a big mistake. He will only win through forgery and, if this happens, the revolution will kick off again.”
Members of the Brotherhood were not available to comment on Suleiman’s accusation that he received death threats from them.
Suleiman said he was encouraged to run for the state’s top post because he felt the Brotherhood’s popularity has fallen due to “their determination to monopolize all posts.”
The army suspended the constitution that gave absolute powers to the president shortly after the toppling of Mubarak.
Suleiman said he could not accept the presidency if the constitutional committee decides to give more power to the parliament than the president.
“I would never agree to be just an image. The head of state has to have real power, and I think that the country is in need of a strong president who would bring stability and security.”
During the Egyptian uprising Suleiman had said in an interview with ABC that Egyptians were not ready for democracy. His comments turned against him the millions of Egyptians who had campaigned for weeks for an end to Mubarak’s rule.
“Egypt will always be and continue to be a national democratic state where its children enjoy full rights,” Suleiman said in Monday’s interview.
Reuters contributed to this report.