Suleiman Denies Reviving Old Regime as Egypt Contest Begins

Egypt’s former intelligence chief said his presidential bid isn’t an effort to restore the ousted regime he served, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s main candidate blamed Egypt’s economic woes on the Hosni Mubarak era.

Omar Suleiman, who was Mubarak’s deputy in the last days of his rule, told the state-run al-Akhbar newspaper that last year’s uprising created a “new reality” that cannot be reversed. “The priority will be to salvage the country from the dominant chaos,” Suleiman said, promising rapid measures to restore stability and fight crime.

The comments, a day after presidential nominations closed, show Suleiman laying out a law-and-order platform and seeking to distance himself from his former boss as he prepares for elections due to start on May 23. His entry into the race has drawn accusations that Egypt’s ruling generals are trying to revive the old regime. Other Egyptians have expressed fears that Islamists, who have put forward several candidates, are seeking to monopolize power.

The contest also takes place against a backdrop of a struggling economy and a wave of crime. Gross domestic product contracted last year and the central bank has spent more than half the country’s international reserves since the start of 2011, as it seeks to defend the currency. A $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan requested by Egypt in January has yet to be concluded, with the Brotherhood putting up opposition to the deal.

‘Grave Challenge’

“We are facing a very difficult and grave challenge,” millionaire businessman Khairat el-Shater, who is the Brotherhood’s leading nominee for the presidency after serving as the group’s second-in-command and chief financier. “Will we service the debt or plug the deficit or feed the people and educate them and find housing and hospitals for them?” he said at a televised press conference.

Suleiman has denied allegations that his campaign is being orchestrated by the military, which says it will cede power after the presidential vote. He also said that he received death threats from Islamists. If people “believe that those threats can reverse my stance or the continuation of my candidacy, then they are deluded,” Suleiman said.

‘Revolution Will Resume’

El-Shater today criticized Suleiman’s candidacy. “I think his entry in the race is a kind of an insult to the revolution and to the Egyptian people because he was one of Mubarak’s main symbols,” he told reporters, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency. If the vote is “rigged” then “the revolution will resume,” El-Shater said.

Suleiman ranked fourth among the declared candidates with the support of 8.2 percent of voters, according to a poll published by the state-run Al Ahram newspaper. Former Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa led with 31 percent, while El-Shater trailed with 1.7 percent.

El-Shater has met with U.S. businessmen and officials and sought to show that the Brotherhood will embrace free-market policies. He said that Egypt’s budget deficit, forecast by the government at around 9 percent of economic output this year and next, means there is a need for non-government funds from Egypt and abroad to finance development programs.

“We are for supporting the private sector, not for ideological reasons as some will say, but because this is necessary and there’s no other alternative,” he said at today’s press conference. He said the first stage of any new economic plan should be “putting out the fires” -- dealing with the immediate needs of the people.

In a reflection of the challenges the country faces daily, train drivers held a sit-in on the tracks of Cairo’s central station today, bringing traffic to a halt, the private ON TV station reported. Police personnel also demonstrated in front of the Interior Ministry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden in Dubai at barden@bloomberg.net.

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