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Friday, July 20, 2012

Egypt’s former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman died in US

Omar Suleiman
Egypt’s former intelligence chief and Hosni Mubarak’s top lieutenant Omar Suleiman who briefly served as Mubarak’s vice-president during the times of January 25 Revolution in 2011 died early on Thursday on 19 July 2012 in US hospital while undergoing medical tests. The reports about his death are controversial, as the representatives on Egyptian embassy in USA in Washington say Omar Suleiman died of blood disease, while MENA (Middle East News Agency) reports he was suffered lung disease and consequent heart problems.

After disqualification from presidential race this year Omar Suleiman and his family initially traveled to Dubai (UAE), but former intelligence chief’s health conditions deteriorated, he suffered from lung and cardiac problems and headed then to Germany and later to USA for medical treatment. Omar Suleiman died suddenly making medical tests in the Cleveland clinic in US. He was 76 years old.

According to Egyptian officials, Omar Suleiman will be buried in a military funeral, and it will be attended by the representatives of Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsy, members of SCAF and officials and Muslim Brotherhood as well. The arrangements to transfer the body to Egypt as soon as possible have been already made, says Egypt’s embassy in US.
The news about Omar Suleiman’s sudden death caused different reactions among Egyptians. Security forces report that Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak was deeply shocked when he received the news about Suleiman’s death as they had close ties during the time in office. Mubarak heard the news first from his son Gamal and refused to believe it until he received the details about former spy chief’s death.
Hosni Mubarak (left) and Omar Suleiman (right)

Many Egyptian politicians and prominent figures representing different political and ideological powers in Egypt faced their reactions about Omar Suleiman’s death, as he was no doubt an important figure in Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics and history. But the news about military funeral to be organized for Suleiman provoked some anger and dissatisfaction of the people and revolutionaries as well, because they always saw Omar Suleiman as one of Mubarak’s closest allies, also regarding his position in intelligence office and his working methods (he is considered among some Egyptians being a “black box” and torturer). But the supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak who created the Facebook page “I am sorry, Mister President” made a statement demanding the serious investigation into Suleiman’s death and called for disclosure of the “real” reasons behind his death.

Omar Suleiman was born on 2 July 1936 in Qena in Upper Egypt. When he was 18 years old he moved to Cairo to enter the Military Academy, one of the most prestigious in Egypt. Then he also received additional military training in former USSR, at Moscow’s Frunze’s Academy. Omar Suleiman has a military history as he participated in the Six-Day war (the Third Arab-Israeli war, 1967) and in October war (the Fourth Arab-Israeli war, 1973). Omar Suleiman also received bachelor degree from Ain Shams University (Cairo) and master degree from Cairo University in political science. He speaks fluent English, and that helped him to be transferred to military intelligence, where he worked long on the relationships between Egypt and United States.

Omar Suleiman’s career in military intelligence began in 1986 when he became the head of it and later its director (1991) during the Gulf war. In 1993 he became the chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service. One of the most famous stories from the beginning of his career is when he suggested President Hosni Mubarak to ride in an armored car during his official visit to Ethiopia, and it saved Mubarak from assassination. The name of Omar Suleiman wasn’t known a lot till the recent times, as there was always a tradition of keeping the name of chief of intelligence in secret, and only the highest officials knew it. Working as a chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman was called as one of the world’s most powerful and influential spy chiefs.

Omar Suleiman is known for his cooperation with US on the fight with the terrorism, he is also believed to play the direct role in the US rendition program, when the suspected terrorists were sent to Egypt and some other countries for the further interrogations, often allegedly involving the tortures.  

Omar Suleiman who served more than 20 years as intelligence chief was seen as one of the closest and trusted allies of Hosni Mubarak and shared a lot of his ideas and political views, for example such issues as Egypt-Israeli and Egypt-United States relationships, position about Hamas, treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood etc. Omar Suleiman is a military man and by law not the member of Mubarak’s NDP (National Democratic Party), and he was also seen as a major link between Egypt’s military and political elites. There were even the rumors that Omar Suleiman is the only one candidate who could later succeed Mubarak. He was also seen as the choice of Egyptian army, but Suleiman himself denied that he had any attempts and intentions to receive the president’s post.

As a result of civil unrest and the massive protests ongoing in the Egyptian cities nationwide Hosni Mubarak declared Omar Suleiman his vice-president on 29 January 2011. He appointed his intelligence chief as a vice-president in an attempt to calm protesters and tasked him with the negotiating with protesters and revolutionary forces and with Muslim Brotherhood. Later on 10 February 2011 Omar Suleiman became de facto the President of Egypt after Mubarak transferred his powers to Suleiman. The following day, 11 February 2011 Suleiman announced Mubarak’s resignation and stepping down from office and transferring the governing power to military – to SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces). Then Omar Suleiman ceased holding the position and withdrew from governing as he wasn’t the member of SCAF.
Omar Suleiman announces Hosni Mubarak's resignation on 11 February 2011 (shot from Egyptian State TV)

Afterward Omar Suleiman disappeared from public view, but returned earlier this year and announced on 6 April 2012 that he will be running for president, and this announcement provoked the demonstrations and sparked the fears that Mubarak’s regime could come back again in case Omar Suleiman will take president’s office. But Omar Suleiman said he decided to run for presidency to prevent Muslim Brotherhood candidates from victory and coming to power. The Islamists already occupied the majority of seats in Parliament and could influence strongly the process of the Constitution’s writing, and if Islamist President will be elected, Muslim Brotherhood will monopolize the state’s power and all the state’s institutions, turning Egypt to the religious state and leading it to international isolation. Omar Suleiman’s candidacy was supported by some forces opposing Muslim Brotherhood, but was met with dissatisfaction of people who took to the streets demanding the removal of old regime and disqualifying of all the felool (or the remnants of Mubarak’s regime). Omar Suleiman didn’t have any wide support in the streets. But later Omar Suleiman was disqualified from presidential race as he didn’t fulfill all the tasks for becoming the presidential candidate, and there was lack of signatures needed for his candidacy to be officially declared. So Omar Suleiman left the presidential race and disappeared from political arena again. He traveled with his family to UAE, but later his health conditions deteriorated, and Suleiman went to US for medical treatment, where he died in hospital on 19 July. Omar Suleiman was no doubts one of the most controversial figures in Egyptian politics and modern history, some of his actions may be criticized, but he surely played an important role in Middle East and world’s political developments of the last decades. We can only express our condolences to his family and his closest people, and may he rest in peace.