- Associated Press - Thursday, April 12, 2012

CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak’s former spy chief said in comments published Thursday that he decided to run for president to prevent Islamists from turning Egypt into a “religious state,” and warned that the country would be internationally isolated if one of them won the presidency.

Omar Suleiman’s comments in a weekly newspaper interview came just hours before the Islamist-dominated parliament passed a bill that strips senior figures of the Mubarak regime of their political rights for 10 years.

The bill was put together hurriedly this week in hopes of preventing Mr. Suleiman, who briefly served as Mr. Mubarak’s vice president, from running for president.

The law would come into effect only if it is ratified by the military council that took over from Mr. Mubarak when he stepped down 14 months ago.

The generals have yet to speak publicly on the issue, but they are not likely to ratify or reject the bill before the election commission issues a final list of presidential candidates, which is expected later this month.

Decisions of the election commission cannot be appealed.

The showdown between Mr. Suleiman and the Islamists led by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood is the latest in a series of political crises besetting Egypt as it nears the end of a turbulent transition period to civilian rule.

The presidential election is due on May 23-24, with a possible runoff on June 16-17. The winner will be announced on June 21, less than two weeks before the July 1 deadline promised by the military to step down.

In the last two weeks alone, a court ruled to suspend the work of an Islamist-dominated, 100-member panel tasked to draft a new constitution for the nation on the grounds that its makeup violated the spirit of a constitutional declaration adopted in a referendum last year.

The eligibility of at least six of the 23 presidential hopefuls is pending before courts of law, while an increasingly bitter dispute between the military and the Brotherhood, the nation’s largest political group, threatens to boil over and derail the entire political process.

Mr. Suleiman, 75, told El-Fagr newspaper that the Brotherhood’s fielding of a presidential candidate “horrified” Egyptians. The candidacy of Khairat el-Shater, the group’s deputy leader, reversed an earlier promise by the Brotherhood not to field a candidate.

In the interview, Mr. Suleiman noted that the Brotherhood already controls just under half of parliament’s seats and is the chamber’s largest single bloc. He warned that the group would control all state institutions if it wins the presidency.

“If Egypt falls under the rule of [Islamist] groups, it will suffer isolation and its people will suffer from the inability to communicate with others,” he said.

The Brotherhood and other Islamists enjoy a 70 percent majority in the chamber.

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