“He’ll have a chance of winning if SCAF puts its weight around the candidate,” Hamid said, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. “We’ll have to wait and see how much coordination there is between Suleiman and SCAF.”
If his candidacy was, in fact, engineered by the country’s military chiefs, the move could prove a risky gamble, opening up a once-shadowy figure to close scrutiny.
“I’m excited because now all the atrocities he committed over the years will be under the spotlight for the next two months,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist. “He is the only member of Mubarak’s close circle who has not only not been indicted, but is not even being questioned over anything.”
To get on the ballot for the May 24 vote, Suleiman, 75, must gather 30,000 signatures or secure an endorsement from 30 lawmakers by Sunday, the deadline to register.
The announcement marked the latest surprise in a presidential race that a year ago had just three presumed front-runners: well-known former Egyptian diplomats Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei; and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist.
ElBaradei dropped out, and two prominent Islamists — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat el-Shater and Hazem Abu Ismail, who enjoys the support of many in Egypt’s conservative Salafist community — emerged as credible rivals.
An opinion poll released this month by the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies — which didn’t list Shater or Suleiman — has Moussa, the former head of the Arab League, in the lead with the support of 31 percent of the 1,200 Egyptians polled. Ismail ranked second, with the backing of 10 percent. Ismail is fighting to stay in the race amid allegations that his late mother was a U.S. citizen, which under Egyptian law would bar him from the country’s highest office.
Thousands of Ismail’s supporters thronged Tahrir Square after Friday prayers to demand that he be allowed to stay on the ballot. Many in the crowd said they saw Washington’s hand in the attempt to disqualify him.
“America is the number one player in what is happening in Egypt right now,” said Mohammed Hamdi, 45, an accountant who supports Ismail. “America wants a president under its wings that abides by its orders.”
Special correspondent Haitham Mohamed contributed to this report.