Middle East

Rivals for Egypt’s presidency share secretive past

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat el-Shater talks to reporters during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt Monday, April 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

CAIRO: They sit at opposite ends of Egypt’s political spectrum and one of them was jailed by a government in which the other was chief of intelligence. Now they both want to be Egypt’s president.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat al-Shater and Hosni Mubarak’s head spy Omar Suleiman have moved firmly into the public eye as last-minute contenders in the presidential election, redrawing the electoral map just weeks before voting.

If available opinion polls can be trusted, they will have to make up ground on Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League chief who enjoys wide name recognition and has been on the campaign trail for a year.

But both Shater and Suleiman are expected to do well in the election due to be held in May and June. One is the representative of an Islamist group that is the country’s best organized party and the other is a former military man with establishment ties who is seen by his supporters.

Despite Suleiman’s denials, his candidacy is widely seen as being backed by the ruling army council and sets the stage for a ballot box fight between a leading symbol of Mubarak’s era and the Islamist movement banned under his rule.

Both Shater and Suleiman are viewed as mysterious figures whose distance from the public eye has been a hot topic in local media since their candidacies were confirmed.

“Each of them belongs to the world of secret work,” said Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a political commentator.

Suleiman, 76, barely spoke in public until he was appointed as Mubarak’s deputy in his last days in office. As his intelligence chief, Mubarak had tasked him with high-profile diplomatic missions. His portfolio included Palestinian affairs.

Shater, a 61-year-old millionaire businessman seen as the Brotherhood’s financial muscle, also stayed out of the public eye. Experts see him as part of a hard-line wing and someone who operated in line with a tradition of secrecy that grew out of decades of oppression from successive governments.

He was jailed repeatedly, spending a total of 12 years in prison. “Some say that Shater is a mysterious man and that he doesn’t like communicating with the media,” Shater said Monday. “I must work hard to change this.”

He and Suleiman join a field divided between Mubarak-era officials, Islamists, liberals and leftists.

The Islamists include Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Salafist polling second to Moussa but who now faces disqualification because of documents showing his late mother had U.S. citizenship – something he has denied.

The field also includes Abdel-Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member expelled from the group last year for his decision to run against Brotherhood wishes.

The legacy of decades of mistrust between Suleiman and the Brotherhood has been on show since his candidacy was declared. Shater described Suleiman’s candidacy as an “insult” to the Egyptians who had risen up against Mubarak and he could only win if the election results were rigged.

Suleiman said he had received death threats from Brotherhood members, expecting he would win support from Egyptians who have not yet been engaged in politics but are now angered at what he described as the Islamist group’s attempts to assume a dominant role, a view heard from other politicians and analysts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 10, 2012, on page 1.




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