Reading out his political programme to parliament on Wednesday, Muhammad Farid Hasanain said he was challenging a national assumption that President Husni Mubarak should automatically win an uncontested fifth term.

A founder and former member of al-Ghad, the opposition party, Hasanain laid out the three main planks of his campaign.

"I am offering Egypt sincerity. I am sincere in working to want to rid the country of poverty, unemployment and dictatorship - the collective bane of this country.

"We need to have a free media and free political parties. We need to have a new constitution," he told Aljazeera.net.

Chance for change

Mubarak, 76, is widely expected to run and win his fifth term in office in the elections scheduled for May.

The arrest of Ayman al-Nur has
attracted Washington's attention

Under the Egyptian system, parliament will elect a single candidate for the presidency, whose name will then be put to a referendum in September.

Opposition parties have long called for constitutional reform to pave the way for direct elections for the presidency and reduced powers for the incumbent.

And although Hasanain recognises his chances of winning the presidency are slim, he said Egypt has a chance for change.

Pharaoh claim

"Egypt needs to be a democratic republic. I am announcing that I am running against Mubarak. He is a pharaoh and we must get rid of the last era of pharonic rule," Hasanain said.

"The existing opposition parties are very weak, and they nearly all cooperate with the non-democratic government. Dictators are running as heads of these opposition parties themselves."

He also voiced his support for the head of the opposition al-Ghad party, Ayman al-Nur, who was arrested in February, sparking international criticism of Egypt.

Strong concerns

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday expressed "very strong concerns" about Cairo's jailing of al-Nur, saying she wants the situation resolved quickly.

She made her comments at a State Department news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait following their first formal talks since Rice took office three weeks ago.

An Egyptian court on 1 February remanded al-Nur, a member of parliament, in custody for 54 days on allegations he forged documents to set up al-Ghad. The party says the aim of the arrest was to intimidate reformers.