Former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Getty Images Europe)
Hosni Mubarak’s closest adviser and former head of intelligence Omar Suleiman has thrown his hat into Egypt’s presidential race. The announcement of his candidacy last Friday has scrambled the first presidential elections to be held since the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime, although it’s important to note that the vast majority of Egyptians won’t vote for him, according to polls.
Suleiman’s candidacy has been welcomed by at least one Israeli lawmaker, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (though if he wants Suleiman back in power, he should shut up considering Egypt’s revulsion at Israeli interference in their affairs). It’s safe to assume his candidacy is also warming the hearts of the entire Israeli security establishment, given Suleiman’s past role as the point person on Egyptian-Israeli relations, which were close until Mubarak’s overthrow last February.
Suleiman’s candidacy has enraged Egyptians who took part in the popular uprising to topple Mubarak. Earlier today, an Egyptian parliamentary committee passed a bill amending Egypt’s election law to ban former regime figures from running for president, a measure aimed at Suleiman.
“Omar Suleiman has made a big mistake. He will only win through forgery and, if this happens, the revolution will kick off again,” Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater told Reuters.
The Associated Press reports that Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party member in Israel’s Knesset, told Israel’s Army Radio that Suleiman would be the best president for Egypt in terms of Israeli interests. Ben-Eliezer has long had close ties to the Mubarak regime, and has said that Israel had offered Mubarak safe harbor after his overthrow.
Israel, as well as the US, have good reason to welcome Suleiman’s candidacy. WikiLeaks cables offer a glimpse into why.
An August 2008 cable reports that “there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman” as the successor to Mubarak. The reason for why Suleiman was liked by Israel comes out in other documents.
A 2007 cable quotes Suleiman as saying that he wanted Israel’s blockade to cause “Gaza to go ‘hungry’ but not ‘starve.'” Suleiman has also told US officials that the Israel Defense Forces would be “‘welcome’ to re-invade Philadelphi, [a strip of land between Gaza and Egypt]…Mubarak and his security chiefs viscerally want Hamas ‘to fail.’” Suleiman has also expressed hope that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority would return to Gaza.
Suleiman’s positions outlined in those cables–supporting the crippling blockade of Gaza and blocking reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah–is exactly the Israeli position.
Suleiman was also close to the US. As Jane Mayer notes in the New Yorker, Suleiman was the “C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.”
Lisa Hajjar, a professor at the University of California and the co-editor of Jadaliyya, wrote on Suleiman’s close US ties last February:
On January 29, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s top spy chief, was anointed vice president by tottering dictator, Hosni Mubarak. By appointing Suleiman, part of a shake-up of the cabinet in an attempt to appease the masses of protesters and retain his own grip on the presidency, Mubarak has once again shown his knack for devilish shrewdness. Suleiman has long been favoured by the US government for his ardent anti-Islamism, his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran – and he has long been the CIA’s main man in Cairo.
Mubarak knew that Suleiman would command an instant lobby of supporters at Langley and among ‘Iran nexters’ in Washington – not to mention among other authoritarian mukhabarat-dependent regimes in the region. Suleiman is a favourite of Israel too; he held the Israel dossier and directed Egypt’s efforts to crush Hamas by demolishing the tunnels that have functioned as a smuggling conduit for both weapons and foodstuffs into Gaza.