SHIBIN EL KOM, Egypt (AP) – President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt”s leader for almost a quarter of a century, said on Thursday that he”ll run in the country”s first-ever multi-candidate elections in September.
Mubarak, 77, made his widely expected announcement during a nationally televised speech delivered in Shibin el Kom, the capital of the Nile delta province of Menoufia where he was born.
"I announce in front of you from here, the province of Menoufia, that I have decided to nominate myself for the presidential elections," said Mubarak, whose speech was immediately interrupted by wild applause from hundreds of supporters, including his wife, Suzanne, and sons Alaa and Gamal.
An official at the headquarters of Mubarak”s ruling National Democratic Party said the president will be officially nominated later Thursday as the party”s candidate for the upcoming polls. The official was not authorized to reveal the information and declined to be identified.
After stepping off the podium, Mubarak was swarmed by hugging and kissing supporters who cheered throughout his hour-long speech delivered at the secondary school he graduated from in 1946.
Scores of bodyguards surrounded the president as he waded into the crowd to accept the greetings of some of his most fervent supporters and members of his ruling National Democratic Party.
In a wide-ranging address that touched on his upbringing in this region north of Cairo and role as Egypt”s air force commander during the October 1973 war with Israel, Mubarak also laid out his vision for the future following his likely September 7 election win, including giving the parliament and government more powers and placing checks on the president”s role during times of threat.
Days after Egypt”s deadliest ever terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Mubarak also proposed introducing a new anti-terrorism law to replace highly criticized emergency laws in place since the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, by Islamic extremists during a Cairo military parade.
He also called for an Arab leaders summit to be held on Wednesday in Sharm to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, Iraq and the "many challenges that might drive the region onto dangerous paths," a clear reference to terrorism.
"The time has come to create decisive role to fight terrorism by introducing a law that would be a legislative replacement for the emergency law in combating terrorism," said Mubarak, a key U.S. ally who has cast himself as moderating influence in the turbulent Middle East.
Political activists and human rights groups have long criticized Egypt”s emergency laws for giving authorities wide powers to arrest, detain people for extended periods of time without formal charges and bring civilians before military courts, from which appeals are limited.
Mubarak defended the emergency laws, saying they were needed to battle "tragic circumstances" that had beset Egypt, and that they had "to a great extent, limited acts of terror and helped pre-empt many terror plans in the past years".
"But the time has come for us to adopt during the coming period a firm and decisive law that besieges terrorism, uproots it and drains its resources, a law that protects national security and ensures stability," he said.
During the 1990s, Mubarak directed Egypt”s security forces to wage a relentless crackdown on Islamic extremists, resulting in the killing or execution of scores and jailing of thousands.
In four previous presidential referendums, Mubarak has won each with landslide results as the sole candidate offered to the public.
But amid local and U.S.-led calls for greater democratic freedoms in the Middle East, Mubarak earlier this year directed the parliament to amend Egypt”s constitution to allow for direct presidential elections open to more than one candidate.
While the move was initially hailed by pro-democracy proponents, many opposition activists have since complained that the amendments did not go far enough and, instead, placed almost insurmountable restrictions on people wanting to challenge Mubarak.
The constitutional amendments bar dual citizens from running and stipulate that independent candidates must get 250 recommendations from elected members of both houses of parliament and city councils to run. Each body is dominated by Mubarak”s political party.
Opposition members say it is virtually impossible to attain so many recommendations.
In calling for the Sharm summit, Mubarak said the Arab world is witnessing "worrisome developments from the situation on the Palestinian arena to the situation in Iraq to many other challenges," adding there was "a need to formulate a shared Arab vision".
Mubarak did not say why he wanted the summit held in Sharm, but it was apparently chosen in a sign of resolve by his government in the face of Saturday”s pre-dawn bombings that killed 88 people, according to hospital officials.
Egypt”s Health Ministry said 64 people died, but numerous body parts have not been identified, while several missing tourists, including 10 Britons, have not been accounted for.
But amid increasing reform calls over recent years, Mubarak has ordered his party to undertake social, political and economic changes.
In his candidacy speech, Mubarak outlined his future reform plans, which include strengthening the parliament”s powers "in ensuring oversight and accountability," increasing the government”s role in executive affairs, empowering local administrations and amending the constitution to introduce checks on presidential powers during times of threat.
"I”m committed to continuing to build a modern society, a growing economy and free citizens in a democratic nation," Mubarak said during his candidacy speech. "Your troubles are my troubles; your concerns are my concerns; your ambitions are my ambitions".