Friday, September 3, 2010

Group promotes Egypt's spy chief for president

CAIRO — Activists on Thursday hung posters across Cairo supporting Egypt's intelligence chief as a candidate in next year's presidential elections, the latest campaign to try to undermine a possible father-son succession in the Arab world's most populous nation.

Gamal Mubarak has for the past decade been widely thought to be expected to succeed his father, 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak. Both father and son deny that such a plan exists, although Gamal Mubarak's political clout has significantly grown over the past decade.

The question of who will succeed Mubarak, Egypt's ruler of nearly 30 years, gained added importance when the older Mubarak traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in the stomach lining. The surgery raised questions about the president's health.

It was only this month that posters appeared around Cairo promoting the banker-turned-politician Gamal Mubarak as Egypt's next president and urging him to run in the 2011 presidential election.

Opposition groups have been vocal against the idea, and have floated other names as candidates, including Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief, and former U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

A popular campaign supporting ElBaradei's candidacy already is in progress. But he has said he would only run in 2011 if constitutional restrictions on independent candidates entering the race are lifted.

But this is the first time images of Suleiman, himself a career army officer, appear.

Scores of the posters showing Suleiman in a business suit, dark sunglasses and waving with his right hand surfaced in several Cairo neighborhoods, plastered on walls and bridges.

In one location, four Suleiman posters were plastered round a single one of Gamal Mubarak.
The posters call Suleiman the "real alternative."

The activists behind the spy chief's posters issued a statement launching the "Popular campaign in support of Omar Suleiman as president of Egypt."

In a copy obtained by The Associated Press, the group said it is appealing to the Mubarak regime, opposition groups and the army to support their call.

"We repeat the call ... and direct it to the wisemen of the regime, to the Egyptian opposition and to Egypt's honorable army which will not want to smear the glory of the Egyptian state with the shame and disgrace of a succession sought by the president's son," the statement said.

"We think the only way to achieve real democratic transformation in Egypt is to have Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman assume power for a transitional period," the statement said.

The group's spokesman said he wants to remain anonymous because it is "our idea" not "our name" that matters.

"The real alternative is Suleiman, particularly with the state of the president's health, the upcoming elections, and with continued attempts by businessmen supporting Gamal to push for him as president."

Suleiman, 74, has been Egypt's intelligence chief for nearly two decades. He is a close Mubarak aide and is in charge of Egypt's most pressing foreign policy issues, such as relations with Israel, the United States and neighboring Sudan.

Suleiman rarely speaks to the media and, like most of those with intelligence or military backgrounds, is viewed positively by many Egyptians. He has never publicly expressed a wish to run for president, but many look to him as a candidate that would keep Egypt's top job within the military.

Mubarak himself is a career military officer like his three predecessors in post-monarchy Egypt — Mohammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Sadat.