Posters supporting Egypt’s spy chief for president swiftly removed from Cairo’s streets

By Sarah El Deeb, AP
Friday, September 3, 2010

Posters for Egypt’s spy chief as president removed

CAIRO — Posters supporting Egypt’s intelligence chief as a candidate in next year’s presidential election were removed from Cairo’s streets hours after they appeared, while an independent newspaper was ordered to pull reports of the campaign from its pages, officials said Friday.

The swift reaction against the posters, which bore an image of Lt. Gen. Omar Suleiman in a dark business suit and sunglasses and waving his right hand, appeared to indicate that the campaign backing the enigmatic spy chief had embarrassed President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Suleiman is a close aide of Mubarak, the 82-year-old who has ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years and is still officially the ruling party’s candidate in next year’s presidential vote.

The campaigners behind the posters, which dubbed Suleiman the “real alternative,” say they oppose a possible succession in which Mubarak passes power to his son, banker-turned-politician Gamal. Both deny that such a plan exists.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said municipality workers removed all of the posters Thursday soon after they appeared. He did not elaborate.

Campaign organizers also confirmed the posters were taken down.

The activists insist on anonymity, making it impossible to determine who or how popular they are.

The question of who will succeed Egypt’s longtime ruler has gained added urgency since the elder Mubarak traveled to Germany earlier this year for surgery to remove his gallbladder and a benign growth in his small intestine.

His 46-year-old son has been a rising force in Egyptian politics since 2000, and now serves as the ruling party’s chief strategist. Earlier this month, posters sprung up around Egypt supporting Gamal as a candidate for presidency.

In an indication of just how delicate the issue of who will succeed the elder Mubarak is, an official at the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm daily the paper was ordered to destroy 30,000 copies of the daily that carried reports of the Suleiman poster campaign.

It was an unusual request for Egypt’s largely vibrant press.

The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the printing house of a state-owned newspaper refused to print another batch of Al-Masry Al-Youm until news of the campaign was pulled from the front page.

The state-owned printing house was following orders from senior officials, the official said without elaborating.

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.

He 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.

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