Activist group promotes Egypt's powerful intelligence chief for president

CAIRO (AP) — Activists on Thursday hung posters across Cairo supporting Egypt's intelligence chief as a candidate in next year's presidential elections, the latest campaign to try to undermine a possible father-son succession in the Arab world's most populous nation.

The posters of Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman were also a sign that the debate over who is to rule this close U.S. ally is now being fought out on the streets, and not in closed doors or among intellectuals.

The group putting up the posters has insisted on anonymity so it is impossible to determine its credibility or popularity, but it is championing one of the most powerful men in the country.

Presenting Suleiman as an alternative could signal the first challenge to the father-son succession from within the regime, analysts said, since the general comes from the powerful military and wields a great deal of influence in the governing of the country.

Gamal Mubarak for the past decade has been expected to succeed his father, 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak. Both deny that such a plan exists, although the younger Mubarak's political clout has significantly grown over the past decade.

The question of who will succeed Egypt's ruler for nearly 30 years gained added urgency when the older Mubarak traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in his small intestine.

Posters also appeared this month around Cairo promoting Gamal as Egypt's next leader and urging him to run in next year's presidential election.

Egypt's ruling party has denied it was behind the campaign, and analysts say it may be a sign there was disagreement within the party over the succession.

Much was also made in Egypt of the president's son accompanying him to the inauguration of the latest round in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, suggesting Gamal was being introduced around internationally.

The possibility of the son's succession has galvanized Egypt's divided opposition and they have floated a number of alternatives, including former U.N. nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, in addition to Suleiman.

Suleiman has long been described as a potential candidate by analysts, but the poster campaign represents a new step with previously unseen images of him in a business suit, dark sunglasses and the slogan, "the real alternative."

The posters appeared in several neighborhoods, on walls and bridges, and in one case, four of them were plastered round a single one of Gamal Mubarak.

The group behind the posters described themselves as the "Popular campaign in support of Omar Suleiman as president of Egypt" and issued a statement appealing to the regime, opposition groups and the army to support their call.

"We repeat the call ... and direct it to the elders of the regime, to the Egyptian opposition and to Egypt's honorable army which will not want to smear the glory of the Egyptian state with the shame and disgrace of a succession sought by the president's son," the statement said.

"We think the only way to achieve real democratic transformation in Egypt is to have Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman assume power for a transitional period," it added, expressing worry of the president's health and attempts by businessmen to push forward Gamal.

The group's spokesman said he wants to remain anonymous because it is "our idea" not "our name" that matters.

Suleiman, 74, has been Egypt's intelligence chief for nearly two decades. He is a close Mubarak adviser and is in charge of Egypt's most pressing foreign policy issues, such as relations with Israel, the United States and neighboring Sudan.

Suleiman rarely speaks to the media and, like most of those with intelligence or military backgrounds, is viewed positively by many Egyptians who look to him as a candidate that would keep Egypt's top job within the widely respected military. He has never publicly expressed a wish to run for president and is not a member of the ruling party.

Egypt's monarchy was overthrown by the military in 1952 and every one of its four presidents have come from the ranks.

Diaa Rashwan, of the Al-Ahram Center think tank said the fact that the campaign was physically on the streets was significant.

"It is a street campaign, not internet or analyst comment. It is a reality, on the streets of Cairo," he said, adding that it could signify a real struggle within the system.

"The determining factor is whether these posters will stay up," he said.

Security officials refused to comment on the posters and government officials were not available for comment.