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Associated Press
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 — The race for Egypt's first president after ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak was not supposed to look like this.

A year ago, anyone from the old regime seemed too tainted to ever hope for power. Though rising to political prominence, the Muslim Brotherhood promised it wouldn't run for the presidency, wary of seeming too dominant.

Now, the two main contenders to rule Egypt are the Brotherhood's top strongman and the most feared and powerful figure of Hosni Mubarak's inner circle — marking how far the nation has changed from the heady days of revolution in the name of liberal democracy.

In many ways, the two likely main front-runners in the May 23-24 election are mirror images of each other. Both the Brotherhood's Khairat el-Shater and Mubarak's longtime intelligence master Omar Suleiman have long been shadowy figures who ran their organizations from behind the scenes. A retired army general, Suleiman ran Egypt's primary national security agency in Mubarak's authoritarian regime, while el-Shater managed indoctrination, discipline and finance for the secretive Brotherhood.

The revolutionary groups that orchestrated last year's 18 days of protests leading to the end of Mubarak's 29-year rule dread both, fearing either one would lead to a similar dictatorial rule.

"Two makers of the repression machine are competing," wrote Ahmed el-Sawy, a columnist in the Al-Shorouk daily.

"The general (Suleiman) is trying to bring back the Mubarak regime as it was," he wrote. "The religious businessman (el-Shater) is trying to reproduce a regime in the Mubarak spirit, with its same biases, international pledges and calculations, but in different cloaks, wearing religious garbs."