Omar Suleiman: Profile of an Egyptian spyBy DALLIA MONIEM in Cairo | Monday, July 23 2012 at 11:09
Hero or rights abuser and torturer? Egyptian patriot or a US crony? Undoubtedly, a divisive figure, Omar Suleiman's sudden death last week was met with a spectrum of emotions; from those gleeful at his passing to those who mourned his death like that of their own.
Many wondered "what if" – "what if he'd been eligible to run for the presidency, won and then died in office? What would the political scenario then be?"
Nicknamed the "black box" (like the flight data recorder device), Suleiman was the former head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Apparatus (EGIA) and the country's longest serving spy chief as well as one of it's most influential political players.
Touted as a possible alternative to then president Hosni Mubarak especially with the growing public displeasure of the possibility that Gamal Mubarak would be his father's successor, a Wikileaks cable dated 2007 affirmed the suspicions. "Egyptian intelligence chief and Mubarak consigliere, in past years Soliman was often cited as likely to be named to the long-vacant vice-presidential post...Many of our contacts believe that Soliman, because of his military background, would at least have to figure in any succession scenario."
Suleiman was born in Southern Egypt in 1936 and rose through military ranks to become the head of the EGIA; an institute whose original mandate was that of counter-espionage on Israel and one which changed to become more focused on Islamists. It was a shift many Egyptians believe was spearheaded by Suleiman.
'Run the show'
According to renowned Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin, as head of Egyptian intelligence “...he oversaw sensitive relations with Israel and the United States and led mediation efforts in talks between Fatah and Hamas. During the 2011 mass uprising, Suleiman was among Mubarak’s lead advisors, orchestrating efforts to contain the political crisis. “Suleiman was running the show,” General Sameh Seif el-Yazal, former member of intelligence community told Time Magazine.”
According to author Jane Mayer “Suleiman headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the CIA snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.”
The spy chief became synonymous with Washington's highly controversial "rendition of terror suspects" programme during the Bush administrations "war on terror" campaign. In fact he played a major role in the US invasion of Iraq under the "weapons of mass destruction" guise when information given by an Al Qaeda suspect tortured by Suleiman-- that there were ties between Saddam Hussein and and the terror group-- was used as justification for the war by Colin Powell in his infamous speech to the UN's Security Council.
The info Suleiman extracted from the suspect was later proven to be bogus as the inmate, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, retracted his statements saying “They were killing me,” and that, “I had to tell them something.” Al-Libi later died in a Libyan prison after he supposedly "committed suicide" immediately after Suleiman paid a visit to Tripoli.
He also once allegedly once told a renditioned Libyan detainee that "even God can't save you,” while another infamous incident recalled by Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, tells of when “the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man's whole arm instead.” A CIA agent reportedly replied that a vial of blood would suffice.
Hated by many
Undoubtedly hated by many he was also lauded as the “most powerful spook in the region” by Foreign Policy and the Daily Telegraph, a fact corroborated by a US State Department memo which said: "Our intelligence collaboration with Omar Soliman is now probably the most successful element of the [U.S.-Egypt] relationship."
Though not many can attest to his character outside the parameters of his position, Suleiman can be best described as someone who was equally controversial as he was anonymous, behind the scenes; one many feared yet others respected. In his book Suskind called Suleiman the "hit man" for the Mubarak regime, adding "He's a charitable man, friendly. He tortures only people that he doesn't know." In a WikiLeaks cable during a 2009 meeting with US military officials, Suleiman said his "overarching regional goal was combating radicalism, especially in Gaza, Iran and Sudan.”
Many secrets are now buried with Omar Suleiman but his legacy and involvement in various events and issues will continue. He has never faced accountability, prosecution nor been investigated for his dealings and actions as a former Mubarak crony yet his role during those years have had far-reaching effects. But with his death many believe this will herald in a new era for Egyptian intelligence and security services and that members of Mubarak's old clique and their hold on power is slowly dissipating.
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