Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s former spy chief, has decided to run in next month’s presidential election, two days after ruling himself out of the race, the official MENA news agency reports.
His change of mind on Friday came after a group of demonstrators gathered to urge Suleiman, who served as Hosni Mubarak’s vice president before the strongman’s overthrow last year, to run, said a statement attributed to him.
Hundreds of Suleiman’s supporters had rallied in Cairo to press the former intelligence minister to join the race, carrying banners reading “Suleiman, save Egypt” and “We need you Suleiman”.
In the statement attributed to him and circulated by campaign aides, Suleiman vowed to run if he could get the necessary support by Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s deadline for candidate registration.
“I was very moved by your strong stand,” said the statement addressed to the citizens of Egypt.
“The call you issued today was an order, and I am a soldier who has never in my life disobeyed an order … I cannot but reply to the call and join the race despite the obstacles and difficulties,” it added.
The former military man who took over as intelligence chief in 1991 vowed to “make every effort … to achieve the expected changes and complete the aims of the revolution, and live up to the hopes of the Egyptian people”.
Suleiman’s entry was likely to shake up an already heated race that pits former regime officials against Islamists for the country’s top post.
It also was a blow to the hopes of the youth activists who spearheaded the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak last year but have been disappointed by the continued influence of members of his ex-regime and have been largely squeezed out of the race.
Campaign aides have been pushing Suleiman to run and have leaked similar reports to the media during the last month.
One aide, Saab Abbasy, told Reuters on Friday: “Suleiman decided to run because anyone who loves this
country has been begging him to do so. He has even had to switch off his phone because of the number of calls he was receiving to convince him to run.”
Suleiman himself has not spoken to the media directly.
Suleiman had said on Wednesday that he would sit out the May 23-24 election because the nomination procedures were too tough.
Candidates bidding for the presidency need 30,000 signatures from people or the support of a party in parliament.
The interim military rulers says they will hand power to the winner by the end of June. The front runners include Khairat el-Shater, a leader of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, and former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa.
Many in Egypt regard Suleiman as having formed part of the inner circle of Mubarak, who shortly before his fall named the intelligence supremo as vice president.
Born in 1936 to a well-off family in the southern town of Qena, Suleiman graduated from Cairo’s military academy in 1955.
Under Mubarak, Suleiman served as a negotiating partner for the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, orchestrating a series of short-lived truces.