CAIRO — A former strongman of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's regime announced Friday that he will enter Egypt's presidential race after supporters marched and pleaded for him to run.
Omar Suleiman's entry reversed an earlier decision and 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.
Suleiman, 75, was one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak's regime, running multiple secretive spy agencies. That makes him suspect in the eyes of many Egyptians, who had hoped to stamp out the old regime altogether.
But Suleiman's inside influence makes him a likely front-runner in the May 23-24 presidential election, with his main opponent likely to be Khairat el-Shater, candidate of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which has already shown its electoral might by winning nearly half of parliament in elections late last year.
Suleiman, a former general who appeared on television to announce that Mubarak would step down on Feb. 11, 2011, said earlier this week that he had decided not to run. But he issued a statement Friday on the state-run MENA news agency saying he changed his mind after hundreds of supporters held a rally urging his candidacy.
"I can only meet the call and run in the presidential race, despite the constraints and difficulties I made clear in my former statement," he said.
The announcement by Suleiman, a longtime Mubarak ally who served as Egypt's intelligence chief for 18 years, also was a major setback for two other ex-regime officials who have announced plans to run for president: former foreign minister and ex-Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, and former prime minister and Mubarak confidant, Ahmed Shafiq.
All three are widely seen as symbols of the old regime but have support among some liberals and moderates who fear the \' rising power.
Suleiman must now get 30,000 supporters to sign a petition before he can officially submit his application to run in time to meet the official filing deadline on Sunday. The vote is then set to take place end of May, with a possible run later. The announcement of who will lead the Arab world's most populous nation will be announced no later than end of June.
A win for Suleiman would largely keep control of Egypt in the hands of military, which took power after Mubarak's ouster last year.