Egypt Ex-Spy Chief Fights for Right to Run for President

Omar Suleiman, in Yasser Arafat's headquarters, May 24, 2004. (Hussein Hussein/Getty Images)

Former Egyptian spy chief Omar Suleiman, who experts say oversaw torture for the Mubarak regime, has appealed a government ruling barring him from running for president in the country's upcoming elections.

Suleiman, whose candidacy had caused an uproar among both Islamists and the secular parties who led the revolution that toppled Mubarak, is among ten candidates who were barred by the country's election commission from running for president on technical grounds. According to the commission, Suleiman did not submit enough signatures from local notables endorsing him to qualify as a candidate.

In a separate hurdle for Suleiman's candidacy, Egypt's parliament also passed legislation Thursday banning former top officials in the Mubarak regime from standing for office, but that bill must be approved by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to become law.

Suleiman served at the top of Egyptian intelligence from 1993 until he was briefly appointed vice president to then-President Hosni Mubarak just days before the regime fell in February 2011. As  ABC News reported last year, in that time experts said Suleiman had been America's "point man in Egypt" and was integral to just about every intelligence operation the U.S. conducted there.

John Sifton, who authored a 2007 Human Rights Watch report on torture conducted by Egyptian intelligence, said Suleiman oversaw joint operations with the CIA and other Arab countries "which featured illegal renditions and tortures of dozens of detainees." Under the rendition program, terror suspects were grabbed from one country and delivered by the U.S. to yet another country to be interrogated, often using harsh techniques.

The election commission ruled that Suleiman had not collected enough signatures from a specific region of Egypt to qualify as a candidate. Suleiman appealed his disqualifications by presenting additional endorsements. While the commission is not expected to rule on the appeal before Tuesday, Egypt's Al Arabiya television reported Monday that the secretary general of the commission had asserted the body could not accept endorsements submitted after the April 8 th deadline.

Also appealing disqualification was Egypt's leading Islamist candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat Shater, who was barred because he is running less than six years after his release from prison. On Monday, Shater continued campaigning, vowing to return to the street "to continue the revolution if [the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces] continues to skew the race in favor of [Mubarak's party]".

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was persecuted under Mubarak, claims that Shater's jailing was politically motivated and should not disqualify him from running.

"There is an attempt by the old Mubarak regime to hijack the last stage of this transitional period and reproduce the old system of governance." Murad Muhammed Ali, campaign manager for Shater, told Reuters.

Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who was disqualified because his mother allegedly holds U.S. citizenship, is also appealing the commission's decision. Abu Ismail has denied that his mother is a U.S. citizen, saying his sister is a citizen and his mother had only a green card.  Egyptian law requires that candidates, their spouses and parents only hold Egyptian citizenship. The election commission's ruling seemed to contradict a decision by the Cairo administrative court last week that found that his mother was not a U.S. citizen.

There are a total of 13 remaining candidates in the race who have not been disqualified. Chief among them are Amr Mousa, Mubarak's foreign minister for a decade, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member and Muslim Brotherhood reformer who was ousted from the party, and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister.

Egypt's presidential election is expected to be held on May 22 and 23 with a final list of candidates expected to be released by April 26.

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