CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak's former vice president and spy chief Omar Suleiman will have the behind-the-scenes backing of Egypt's ruling generals and the state media's powerful propaganda machine in his bid to succeed his longtime mentor for the nation's highest office, according to officials with firsthand knowledge.
Suleiman, 75, will set out as a formidable presidential challenger to stop the Islamists from taking over the country and may also try to sell himself as a safe pair of hands for those increasingly frustrated over tenuous security and a worsening economy.
His surprise candidacy speaks to the seismic changes Egypt has gone through since millions of people took to the streets last year united by a desire to topple Mubarak's regime and the dream of a free, democratic and more just Egypt.
The notion of a Suleiman presidency would have been ludicrous then. But not any more.
Many Egyptians have since lost faith with the young revolutionaries who engineered Mubarak's stunning overthrow. The euphoria over his ouster soon gave way to frustration as Egyptians struggled to cope with a surge in violent crime, the fallout from a faltering economy and seemingly endless strikes, street protests and sit-ins that disrupted their daily life.
"There is a real constituency that now yearns for law and order and stability after the tumultuous period following the fall of the Mubarak regime," said Michael Hanna, an Egypt expert from the Century Foundation in New York. "Many among this sector will view him as a force for such stability in the face of rising chaos and economic uncertainty. But his inextricably tight connection to the former regime and some its most repressive practices will also limit his support."
On Friday, Suleiman reversed a decision not to run and on Sunday he presented his candidacy papers to the election commission just minutes before the deadline expired.
His supporters boasted that he collected more than 100,000 signatures, nearly four times the number of endorsements required for independent politicians to be able to run in the May 23-24 presidential election. The presidential vote will be the first since Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising 14 months ago.
The election commission later announced that 23 candidates have presented their papers, but that a final list would be announced later this week after vetting.
The names did not include Buthaina Kamel, the only female hopeful who announced on Sunday that she was not able to collect the required minimum of 30,000 signatures.
"I can say with certainty that the (ruling) military council pushed Omar Suleiman to run," declared moderate Islamist candidate Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. "I can't imagine the Egyptian people will elect a figure from the old regime."