CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak's former vice president and spy chief said in comments published Monday that he would not attempt to "reinvent" the regime of his longtime mentor if he is elected president of Egypt.
Omar Suleiman, who is running in the presidential elections slated for May 23-24, told state-owned Al-Akhbar daily that restoring security would be his top priority as president. Next on his list would be to revive the country's faltering economy, social justice and reinforcing freedom and democracy.
He also sought to distance himself from the old regime and said the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down nearly 14 months ago has created a "new reality" that cannot be reversed.
"The clock cannot be turned back and the revolution laid down a new reality that cannot be ignored," Suleiman said. "And no one, no matter who he is, will be able to reinvent a regime that fell, folded and was rejected and revolted against."
Suleiman's candidacy sets up a likely showdown in the elections between a key figure of the Mubarak regime and the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt's most powerful political group, which is fielding its former deputy leader as candidate for president.
The Brotherhood has blasted Suleiman's candidacy. Its contender in the race, Khairat el-Shater, denounced on Monday what he said was a "reproduction of the old regime" and warned that any attempt to rig the May vote would unleash new street protests.
"This is an offense to the revolution and a failure to realize the changes that have happened in the Egyptian people," el-Shater told reporters. "This is an attempt to steal the revolution."
The likely confrontation in the elections between Suleiman and el-Shater will revive the enmity between Mubarak's regime and the Brotherhood, which had been banned for nearly six decades until the former president's ouster. Mubarak had cracked down on the group during most of his years in power.
Suleiman served as Mubarak's intelligence chief for close to 20 years, a position that allowed him to be a key part of a regime that was defined by corruption, police abuse and wholesale human rights violations. He also shared his mentor's foreign policy goals and his enmity of Islamists. Like Mubarak, Suleiman has been close to both the United States and Israel, distrusted Iran and enjoyed close ties with the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia.
He was appointed vice president during the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in a last-gasp effort to save the regime. Mubarak-era generals took over the reins of power after the president stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011, and Suleiman disappeared from the public eye until resurfacing last week.
In the interview, Suleiman also projected himself as an opposition figure within the Mubarak regime, saying he had objected to many policies, laws and "what transpired" in 2010 parliamentary elections, which were probably the most rigged vote since Egypt's 1953 overthrow of the monarchy.
"Those who think that my candidacy for president means reinventing the former regime must realize that being the head of the General Intelligence Agency or vice president for a few days does not mean that I was part of an institution against which people revolted," Suleiman said.
The 75-year-old Suleiman said he has received death threats from "elements" of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups since he announced his candidacy on Friday. "Those who think that these threats will make me change my position or force me to abandon my candidacy for the presidency are deluding themselves," he said.
He also said he won't free Mubarak or any of his aides if he became president.
Mubarak, 83, is on trial for his life on charges of complicity in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising. He is also facing corruption charges along with his two sons, wealthy businessman Alaa and Gamal, his one-time heir apparent who ran the ruling party.
The court will rule in their case on June 2. Separately, some 40 stalwarts of the regime, including two Mubarak-era prime ministers, are on separate trials on a wide range of corruption charges.
Suleiman himself is not facing any charges despite his central role in the former regime. As a career army officer, he also served alongside many of the 19 generals who now make up Egypt's ruling military council.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.