Feature

Omar Suleiman, 1936–2012

The wily spy chief who served Mubarak’s regime

After decades in the shadows, Egypt’s former spymaster Omar Suleiman was forced into the limelight in late January 2011, in the waning days of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Hastily appointed vice president in a last-ditch effort to quell anti-government protests, Suleiman misread the country’s mood, telling protesters in Tahrir Square to “go home.” Days later, it fell to him to haltingly announce on television that Mubarak was stepping down. When Suleiman ran for president this year, few Egyptians could forget his years of loyal and often ruthless service to the former regime, and he was disqualified on a technicality.

Born in the Upper Egypt town of Qena, Suleiman “distinguished himself in the Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973,” said the Los Angeles Times. After a 30-year career in the army, he was made the country’s spy chief in 1993. He proved “indispensable to Mubarak, who shared his disdain for Islamists and trusted him with Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and other sensitive diplomacy.”

As a result, “apart from Mubarak, no one in Egypt wielded greater power,” said The Telegraph (U.K.). The “premium-cigar-smoking, Hemingway-reading” Suleiman oversaw a vast intelligence network that often used brutal tactics to crack down on dissidents and Islamists. For years, he served as the trusted conduit between Washington and Mubarak’s regime, coordinating secret renditions of terrorism suspects, who were subjected to harsh interrogations by his operatives. It was “emblematic of his close ties with the CIA,” said The New York Times, that Suleiman died in a Cleveland hospital, where he was quietly receiving treatment.

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