CAIRO (AFP) â€” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday confirmed he will seek a fifth mandate in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential poll in September, ending months of speculation about his future.
Mubarak’s announcement comes at a pivotal moment for Egypt as it copes with the aftermath of the Sharm El Sheikh attacks which killed at least 67 people and moves cautiously towards political reform.
“I declare before you, from here, from Al Munufiya governorate, that I intend on applying for nomination so that I can run for the office of president in this coming presidential election,” Mubarak said in a televised address from his native village.
“I will seek to win the trust and support of the people for a new term,” he said in the speech broadcast live from the secondary school from which he graduated in the village of Kufr Mesalha in Egypt’s northern Munufiya governorate.
His announcement was received rapturously by the hundreds of men and women gathered beneath a canopy in the village, who stood and applauded the decision passionately and were later seen kissing him on both cheeks.
Opposition groups, most of which have said they would boycott the September vote, were critical, however, saying Mubarak had come up with empty promises. Mubarak said the September 7 election would be transparent and fair. However, he made no response to US demands for international supervision.
“I promise that the upcoming election will be competitive, free and fair, with maximum transparency, offering equal opportunities to all the nominees,” he said, hailing a constitutional amendment last May that allowed for the first contested elections.
Until now Egyptians had only been able to say yes or no to a single candidate appointed by the parliament which is dominating by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).
The constitutional change was approved in a May 25 referendum although the country’s judges have charged that the official results of the vote were rigged.
One of the founding members of the pro-reform movement Kefaya (Enough) that has led the bulk of anti-Mubarak protests in recent months reiterated previous complaints by the opposition, saying registration conditions are so strict that no candidate can effectively challenge Egypt’s veteran leader.
The amendment “was done in such a way that Mubarak will be running against himself again,” George Ishaq told AFP.
The veteran Egyptian leader vowed to implement “further constitutional and legislative reforms, reforms based upon a strong foundation of public rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.”
He also promised further decentralisation of power and to maintain “free economic activity, social justice, property rights in all its forms, and work rights.”
The election will be taking place under the shadow of the bombings in Egypt’s showcase resort of Sharm El Sheikh on Saturday that killed scores of people including 16 foreigners.
Mubarak said the state of emergency enforced in the wake of his predecessor’s assassination, Anwar Al Sadat, in 1981 had “helped preempt many terrorist plans during the past years.”
The 24-year-old state of emergency is one of the main grievances of the opposition which says it curbs public freedom, allows for arrest and detention without any formal charges and military trials for common crimes.
Mubarak did speak of the need for “a law that provides a legislative substitute to combat terrorism and replace the current emergency law,” though it did not say when then new legislation would be drafted.
Mubarak’s most popular contender in the upcoming polls was quick to deride the announcement.
“When he promised this time to lift the state of emergency he immediately announced that he would replace with another anti-terror law,” said the leader of the centre-right Al Ghad (Tomorrow) party Ayman Nur.
Mubarak also called in his speech for an extraordinary Arab summit to be held in Sharm El Sheikh on August 3, just days after the deadly attacks in the Red Sea resort.
Iraq, the Palestinian territories ahead of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza next month and ways to combat terrorism will top the agenda, Arab diplomats said in Cairo.