CAIRO (AP) — Hosni Mubarak's former vice president said he decided to run for president to prevent Islamists from turning Egypt into a "religious state."
Omar Suleiman, who was also Mubarak's long-serving intelligence chief, said in an interview published Thursday that the Muslim Brotherhood's fielding of a presidential candidate"horrified" Egyptians. The Islamic fundamentalist Brotherhood, which has emerged as Egypt's most powerful political bloc after last year's uprising, reversed an earlier decision not to field a candidate.
Suleiman told the weekly El-Fagr that the Brotherhood would control all state institutions if it wins the presidency and warned Egypt would be isolated internationally if that happened. The Brotherhood already controls just under half of parliament's seats and is the single largest bloc. Together with other Islamists, they have a 70 percent majority in the chamber.
"It is my belief that those who demand that I run, like a majority of this nation's citizens, are in a predicament and indeed the whole state is in a predicament, especially after the Brotherhood decided to field one of its leaders for the presidency after it pledged not to," Suleiman, 75, said in the interview.
"That change struck horror in the souls of members of the Egyptians society. If the Brotherhood's candidate wins the presidential election, Egypt will be turned into a religious state. All state institutions will be controlled by the Brotherhood."
Suleiman's comments came as the Islamist-dominated parliament debated a draft bill to strip top figures from the Mubarak regime of their political rights, including voting and running for office, for 10 years. If adopted, the law would disqualify Suleiman from running in the May 23-24 presidential election along with another candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister.
During Mubarak's three-decade secular presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood was repressed with thousands of its members jailed.
Government representatives told the legislature on Thursday that the draft law violated the constitution, with the Justice Minister Mohammed Attiyah saying that no one should be stripped of their political rights without a court order.
Lawmakers countered that the nation remains in a "revolutionary state" that empowers the legislature to make such a law.
Others warned that a Suleiman presidency would mean the imprisonment of lawmakers and what one lawmaker described as the return of Israel's influence in Egypt. Suleiman was a frequent visitor to Israel while Egypt maintained the Arab world's first and longest standing peace treaty with the Jewish state.
"We are in a state of self-defense, we are defending Egypt and ourselves," said independent Islamist lawmaker Mahmoud Khodeiri, one of the country's top legal experts. "Omar Suleiman means Mubarak returns to the palace, and we all go to prison, and these are the lucky ones because others will be sent to the gallows."
Mubarak is on trial for his life, charged with complicity in the killing of protesters in the uprising that toppled his regime. He was arrested in April last year, but has since been detained in hospital.
Other presidential candidates are also facing legal challenges, including the Brotherhood's Khairat el-Shater. Some have challenged el-Shater's candidacy on the grounds he served time in prison in connection to his political activity under Mubarak. He was pardoned by the military generals who succeeded Mubarak, but his detractors argue that more time must pass before he can run, according to the law.
The election of a president is the last stage of Egypt's turbulent transition to democratic rule. The ruling generals who took over from Mubarak have promised to step down by July 1.