Former UN nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei has said he might run for Egypt's presidency, if the elections are democratic.
His comments were met with heavy criticism in the pro-government press, which backs President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's leader for the past 28 years.
Polls are due in 2011, and some opposition parties have called on Mr ElBaradei to stand.
Mr ElBaradei said he might run if there were "guarantees of fairness".
The 67-year-old Egyptian ended his 12-year term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the end of November.
President Mubarak has not yet said whether he will seek a sixth term.
There has been speculation that his son, Gamal, is being groomed to succeed him.
Opposition and civil society groups have long complained that the authorities have used emergency laws and the security forces to curb political freedoms.
The largest opposition party, the religious Muslim Brotherhood, is banned and its candidates have to stand as independents.
In a statement published in the Egyptian media, Mr ElBaradei called for changes to current laws which make it difficult for independent candidates to stand for the presidency.
Elections must be "under the full supervision of the judiciary... and in the presence of international observers from the United Nations... to ensure transparency," he said.
Support for a presidential bid by Mr ElBaradei has come from members of the liberal Wafd party, and the pro-democracy Kifaya movement.
However, pro-government newspapers have described Mr ElBaradei as out of touch with the reality of Egypt, and lacking in political experience.
A recent conference of the ruling NDP party failed to shed much light on the succession issue.
President Mubarak steered clear of any future role his son might have, but he made a reference to the party's younger members, saying they had developed a clear vision for the future of Egypt.