JERUSALEM — The former intelligence chief of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak filed papers Saturday to be a candidate in the country's soon-approaching presidential election, a surprise move viewed by many as an attempt by Egypt's military rulers to promote one of their own and block a government takeover by Islamist parties.
Gen. Omar Suleiman, who said less than a week ago that he would not seek the post, was the last candidate to file paperwork, just hours before the deadline Saturday.
Egyptians who spearheaded the popular uprising that ousted Mr. Mubarak a year ago expressed outrage at Gen. Suleiman's candidacy.
"I find it incomprehensible that one of the top figures of the old regime, who should be on trial right now as a criminal, is actually considering running for president," activist Mohammad Radwan said.
Another activist, Mohamed Fahmy, said Egyptian youth will never permit Gen. Suleiman to become president. "The revolution is still alive, and we will march to Tahrir Square again, if necessary," he said.
That sentiment raises the specter of resumed clashes between protesters and military, while Gen. Suleiman's action suggests that Egypt's military leaders intend to take on Islamists directly at the ballot box.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the hard-line conservative Salafists won about two-thirds of the seats during parliamentary elections last year. The Brotherhood earlier said it would not enter the presidential contest, but last week it fielded a candidate to counter what it called the military's intransigence in ceding power to a civilian government.
The military chiefs reportedly fear the Islamists will seek to shrink the army's economic empire, reduce its political influence, impose Sharia law and endanger Egypt's relations with the West by threatening to rescind Cairo's peace treaty with Israel.
A former Israeli consul in Egypt, Eli Avidar, suggested on Israel Radio that the May 23-24 presidential election likely will be rigged.
"If the military elite has decided to run a candidate, then they can't permit him to lose," he said.
Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya'ari said on Israel's Channel Two that Gen. Suleiman's candidacy reflects "panic" on the part of the military establishment over the prospect of an Islamist government.
There is a general fear in Egypt that the economy, which has declined sharply since the uprising, will deteriorate even more if a radical government emerges from the elections.
In announcing his decision, Gen. Suleiman said he was responding to demonstrations by supporters, many of them carrying placards reading, "Suleiman, save Egypt" and "We don't want the Islamists."
Unlike other figures in the Mubarak regime, the former intelligence chief has been untainted by allegations of corruption, presumably one of the reasons the military regime urged him to run.
Gen. Suleiman is well regarded in Israel for the years in which he served as an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as his efforts to curb Hamas' militancy. If he were elected, it likely would ease Israeli fears that have risen since the Egyptian uprising brought Islamist elements to the forefront.