Meet Omar Suleiman: Diplomat, Torturer, Renditionist, and Manager of the Billion Dollar Enterprise Known as Egypt Inc.
Omar Suleiman was born July 2, 1936. He is an Egyptian politician and military figure who was appointed Vice President of Egypt on January 29, 2011. Previously, he was Minister without Portfolio and Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID), the national intelligence agency, from 1993 to 2011. Due to the lack of an alternative acceptable to Hosni Mubarak, some have speculated that Suleiman will succeed Egypt Inc.
CEO Hosni Mubarak as President and CEO when he gets kicked upstairs and into his Chairman Emeritus position living lavishly on his reported $ 40 to $ 70 billion dollars absconded from his years of plunder whilst the people in the land of the Pharoahs remain in bondage. So get ready for Pharoah Suleiman. How much is Suleiman worth? What’s his game? What’s his plan to cash in? How will the CIA use his talents for future violations of human rights? So many questions!
Students, union activists and opposition bloggers within Egypt all remain opposed to Suleiman legitimately running the country without elections taking place. Human rights groups tie Suleiman’s career to a regime marked by widespread abuses and assert that Egyptians “see Suleiman as Mubarak II, especially after the lengthy interview he gave to state television Feb. 3 in which he accused the demonstrators in Tahrir Square of implementing foreign agendas.” In response, Suleiman has blamed “certain friendly nations who have television channels, they’re not friendly at all, who have intensified the youth against the nation and the state”
Early life and education
Suleiman was born in Qena in Southern Egypt. He left Qena for Cairo in 1954, at the age of nineteen, to enroll in Egypt’s prestigious Military Academy. He received additional military training in the former Soviet Union at Moscow’s Frunze Military Academy. He is known to have participated in both the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars. In the mid-1980’s he earned additional degrees: a bachelor’s degree from Ain Shams University and a master’s degree from Cairo University, both in Political Science. Suleiman was transferred to military intelligence and, fluent in English, he began what was to be a long relationship between Egypt and the United States.
Egyptian intelligence career
Suleiman became the director of military intelligence in 1991. In 1993, he became the chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS). In 1995, it is said that he insisted that President Mubarak ride in an armored car during a visit to Ethiopia. A would-be assassin fired on the vehicle, but Mubarak escaped without injury due to the added precautions. His name has become known only in recent years, breaking the tradition of keeping the name of the Egyptian head of Intelligence a secret known only to top government officials. It was released in the media around 2000.
In his role as Director of EGID, the British Daily Telegraph dubbed him as “one of the world’s most powerful spy chiefs”. In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked him the Middle East’s most powerful intelligence chief, ahead of Mossad chief at the time Meir Dagan.
CIA rendition program controversy
Suleiman has been implicated as directly involved in the controversial CIA “rendition” program. Journalist Stephen Grey in his work, “Ghost Plane”, states that after taking over as intelligence director, Suleiman oversaw an agreement with the US in 1995 that allowed for suspected militants to be secretly transferred to Egypt for questioning. Although Suleiman’s Egyptian Intelligence was required to provide “assurances” that prisoners handed over through this program would not be subjected to torture, at least one CIA officer has testified that such assurances from them were unofficially regarded as worthless as “a bucket of warm spit”.
He has been accused of complicity in torture of Al-Qaeda suspects in Egypt. Particularly, the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was captured and handed over to Suleiman. The information al-Libi gave under torture was cited by US officials in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Al-Libi later recanted his confession.
Political role and accession to the vice presidency
Suleiman is seen as a very close and trusted ally of President Mubarak, sharing many of his views on key issues such as Iran, Egyptian relations with Israel and the United States, and treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although he was a military man who by law is not a member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, he preferred suits to military uniforms and is seen as a major link between Egyptian political and military elites. Due to his role in the regional political scene and the lack of an alternative candidate acceptable to Hosni Mubarak, some have speculated that Suleiman will succeed Mubarak as President. In particular, he is seen as the choice of the Egyptian military establishment. On January 29, 2011, he was named Vice President of Egypt during the civil unrest, ending a vacancy in the position that lasted almost 30 years.
False allegations of an assassination attempt
On February 5, 2010 a senior Egyptian security source denied reports of an assassination attempt on Omar Suleiman, saying there was no truth to them at all. FoxNews reported an unnamed official in the Obama Administration asserted there was an assassination attempt on Suleiman “soon after Suleiman was appointed”, and claimed that it took the form of an attack on Suleiman’s motorcade. Wolfgang Ischinger, host of the Munich Security Conference and originator of the incorrect allegations, later said he “was led to believe that we had a confirmed report but in fact we didn’t” and also added that the information had come from an “unsubstantiated source.”
Perceptions of Suleiman
AlJazeera describes Suleiman as the unelected Vice President of Egypt, eminence grise to President Hosni Mubarak, and point man for Egypt’s secret relations with Israel. Jane Meyer of the New Yorker notes that Suleiman remains controversial because he “has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service” and also describes his role in allowing controversial torture methods under US rendition programs which may have generated bad intelligence.
In turn, Suleiman has blamed journalists for the current uprising in Egypt. “I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels, they’re not friendly at all, who have intensified the youth against the nation and the state,” Suleiman said in a TV address. “They have filled in the minds of the youth with wrongdoings, with allegations and this is unacceptable. … They should have never done that. They should have never sent this enemy spirit,” he said. The Committee to Protect Journalists replied that “it is stupefying that the government continues to send out thugs and plainclothes police to attack journalists and to ransack media bureaus”. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said “we have traced it to elements close to the government, or the ruling party,” and said “I don’t know that we have a sense how far up the chain it went.”
Bloomberg has reported that Suleiman “lacks the support where he now needs it most: the streets of Cairo”. “The Egyptians don’t want Mubarak and they don’t want Suleiman,” said Chayma Hassabo, a researcher on Arab political movements at Cedej, a Cairo-based research center. AlJazeera has written Suleiman “does not have a high opinion of Islam in politics, and is not shy about telling Western audiences the lengths he will go to allow his security services to keep the Muslim Brotherhood and their offshoots at bay.”
The young guard in Egypt is opposed to Suleiman running the country without elections taking place. Students, union activists and opposition bloggers within Egypt all remain opposed to Suleiman.
In response to the appointment of Omar Suleiman as the new Vice President of Egypt, ElBaradei stated that it was a “hopeless, desperate attempt by Mubarak to stay in power, I think it is loud and clear…that Mubarak has to leave today”.
In the United States
Cables released by Wikileaks suggested Suleiman enjoyed a strong relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency. “Our intelligence collaboration with Oman Soliman is now probably the most successful element of the relationship” with Egypt, said a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable that used an alternative transliteration of his name which also described Suleiman as Mubarak’s “consigliere” on foreign policy.
In the Middle East
Maha Azzam, a fellow at Chatham House, a London-based international affairs research institute, said “the Israelis are happy with Omar Suleiman, he has been pivotal in the peace process, he’s someone they know and someone they can deal with.” Avigdor Lieberman, the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, has expressed “his respect and appreciation for Egypt’s leading role in the region and his personal respect for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Minister Suleiman”.
PressTV has reported that Egyptians “associate Omar Suleiman, now the Vice President who was sworn in today, with a new puppet of the US government – someone to maintain hegemony here in this region because, as I mentioned, without Egypt you have no control over the Palestinian territory, especially Gaza; and, of course, the Israeli connection is something to note.”
From human rights groups
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch assert Suleiman’s career has moved in lockstep with a regime marked by widespread abuses. “Torture is an endemic problem in Egypt and ending police abuse has been a driving element behind the massive popular demonstrations that swept Egypt over the past week,” Human Rights Watch said in a January report.
Human Rights Watch has further written that “Egyptians, particularly those of us calling for an end to Mubarak’s three-decade rule, see Suleiman as Mubarak II, especially after the lengthy interview he gave to state television Feb. 3 in which he accused the demonstrators in Tahrir Square of implementing foreign agendas. He did not even bother to veil his threats of retaliation against protesters.”
As people in Egypt and around the world speculate about the fate of the Mubarak regime, one thing should be very clear: Omar Suleiman is not the man to bring democracy to the country. His hands are too dirty, and any “stability” he might be imagined to bring to the country and the region comes at way too high a price. Hopefully, the Egyptians who are thronging the streets and demanding a new era of freedom will make his removal from power part of their demands, too.