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Israel’s man in Egypt throws his hat into the presidential race

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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.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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22 Responses

  1. RickB on April 9, 2012, 1:47 pm

    Below more on the multiple sick crimes this piece of shit has committed:-
    Rape, paedophilia, murder, torture. He should be on trial and there is sufficient evidence to ensure he ends his days behind bars. Support for him is absolutely unacceptable, anyone who does support him immediately removes their credibility as anything other than an accomplice in atrocity.

  2. annie on April 9, 2012, 1:52 pm

    “Omar Suleiman has made a big mistake. He will only win through forgery and, if this happens, the revolution will kick off again,”

    yep, that about says it.

  3. Justice Please on April 9, 2012, 3:59 pm

    Egyptians should make an immediate citizen’s arrest for this traitor.

  4. piotr on April 9, 2012, 9:04 pm

    I think it is a minor mistake — unless he will loose more than his hat.

    OTOH, Muslim Brotherhood seems to have a death wish: three brothers are candidate, and the official candidate is close to the bottom in popularity. The most popular Islamic candidate is about to be disqualified on a mind-boggling technicality. Security forces are represented by at least 3 candidate, as well as all secularist currently living in Egypt (I mean, all 10 of them, which may split their vote).

    Among the chaos, one guy commands 30% in polls, a former apparatchik who was a head of Arab League. Does anyone know anything about Amr-Moussa?

    • Walid on April 10, 2012, 2:31 am

      A former Mubarak Foreign Minister until sidetracked to the AL, one of his last duties as Sec-Gen of the AL was to ask for the NATO bombardment of Libya but when the bombing started, he absurdly announced that the AL didn’t really want things to get that far. He has to be America’s and Israel’s favourite among the current list of 25 candidates; Israelis saying that they’d love to have the Mubarak clone and sure loser Suleiman win has to be one of their satanic gimmicks to help front runner Moussa as most of the other candidates are not pro-Israel. Tantawi sent up a trial ballon in Alexandria a few months back but it wasn’t received favourably so the coming President will be the first in about 55 years to not have come from the military. Ideally, Baradei should have been a candidate but his ideals got in the way and he was put in the dog house by the US for his intransigence on Iran.

  5. thetumta on April 9, 2012, 10:19 pm

    I think I’m going to be ill. That’s why I avoid this site. Perhaps the Brotherhood should consider a Constitution like Iran or Lebanon. All minorities are represented. Hopefully Egypt doesn’t have to have a civil war to get there.
    Hej! tumta

    • Walid on April 10, 2012, 11:08 am

      “Perhaps the Brotherhood should consider a Constitution like Iran or Lebanon. All minorities are represented.”

      Don’t be misled by some of them. Some are there to ensure representation by the minorities’ clan and religious leaders more than by the minorities themselves. They help maintain the peace since they define which part of the pie each leader gets to control. Syria too had a constitution and it respected all its minorties, but 66% of parliamentary seats were reserved for the ruling party. Israel that brags about being the only true democracy in the ME doesn’t even have a constitution and it doesn’t give equal rights to half the people under its control. In fact, it actual steals from them to give to the privileged other half.

  6. aiman on April 10, 2012, 1:28 am

    The Muslim Brotherhood is making a mistake by playing on “revolution”. They would have much better standing against scums like Omar Suleiman by outlining a bottom-up justice and equal rights movement, alongside other groups, in the example of Muhammad Abduh, where all sectors and groups are invited in an embrace of unity and the dissolution of pious tags. This would spare no room for Suleiman and put him in gaol or the gallows where he belongs. “Revolution” is like a tide that ebbs and flows, it is not constant. Pan-Islamism is not the answer as Abduh learned and showed, separating himself from Al-Afghani’s politics. We must always align ourselves with justice first, for everyone.

    • Walid on April 10, 2012, 2:57 am

      You need to have the US in your corner to win, like Moussa. After 55 years, the US agreed only to let the Brothers play in the game, not to become its owners.

      • aiman on April 10, 2012, 9:18 am

        Perhaps to some extent. Are you saying people have no agency without the US? The first problem is the approach of the Muslim Brotherhood. It would have more going for itself as Egyptian Brotherhood instead of Muslim Brotherhood, the dissolution of identity politics, by including Copts and all sectors of society. It would be a start, a bottom-up approach, if nothing more and sow the seeds for a united, egalitarian society when finally power does change hands. There would be a consensus, people would know who to elect. This bottom-up strategy would not require a revolution, merely a serious joust and the tyrants would scatter.

      • Walid on April 10, 2012, 1:51 pm

        “The first problem is the approach of the Muslim Brotherhood. It would have more going for itself as Egyptian Brotherhood instead of Muslim Brotherhood, the dissolution of identity politics, by including Copts and all sectors of society.”

        Aiman, it’s not about what they call themselves but their aspired return to the fundamentals of Islam and this return doesn’t have any room in it for Copts or anything else that’s distant from fundamentalist Islam. Yes, like it or not, the US carries a big stick and a big voice on how the elections will play out.

      • aiman on April 11, 2012, 12:21 am

        Yes that was my larger point, that the Muslim Brotherhood must eschew a monocultural vision for Egypt in favour of complete equality and justice for everyone, particularly Copts and Baha’is, and among men and women. This would mean the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and something akin to the embrace of people of all religions and walks of life. That would go a long way, whatever the influence of the US, when change finally arrives. I don’t believe US policy has a hundred per cent control over anybody, people can rise over any obstacle through a bottom-up egalitarian approach and challenge the hierarchies of power.

      • Walid on April 11, 2012, 1:57 am

        “I don’t believe US policy has a hundred per cent control over anybody, people can rise over any obstacle through a bottom-up egalitarian approach and challenge the hierarchies of power.”

        Aiman, it was the Americans that brought the brothers out of the dog house after having helped keep them there for 55 years. Now you’re saying they should change their skin, adopt a more universal philosophy that welcomes Christians and other groups and challenge their American benefactors. Not very realistic. Egypt is not in a position to challenge any hierarchy as it could use all the help it could get, especially the American one.

  7. seafoid on April 10, 2012, 3:48 am

    I think Khairat al Shater will walk it. Israel has no influence.
    It goes back to that video of Ken O Keeffe in Gaza the night Mubarak fell. Zionism and US imperialism. Over, definitely over.

    • Pixel on April 10, 2012, 9:28 am

      “Zionism and US imperialism. Over, definitely over.”

      We can only hope.

      • seafoid on April 10, 2012, 11:30 am

        I think it’s the beginning of the end. There is so much suffering in the US today . Mass layoffs of people in their 50s. 43 million with no health insurance. Stagnant median incomes for 30 years.
        And Israelis get an average of $1000 per person in aid/kickbacks from the US .
        It’s unsustainable.

      • Walid on April 10, 2012, 3:08 pm

        “And Israelis get an average of $1000 per person in aid/kickbacks from the US .
        It’s unsustainable.”

        The US still has lots of catching up to do to reach world poverty levels. If it can still dump billions in freebies to Israel and Egypt in spite of having 43 million Americans without health care, things are either not as bad as they look or the US has a sick mentality. More on things unsustainable is Egypt’s population growing by a million each year with an almost identical number joining the labour force without an equal number of jobs being created to absorb them. There’s more to Egypt’s problems than simply having dumped Mubarak and inherited the Brothers in his place. 3 years back, Frontline had something about this problem in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world that the West still hasn’t grasped. Arab spring and free internet for kids have nothing to do with it; it’s about jobs, food, water and so on:

        “… When we look at Egypt, and especially Cairo — Egypt being the most populous country in the Arab world, and Cairo, I believe the most populous Arab city — it seems kind of like a microcosm of what’s going on in the rest of the Middle East.

        Well, Egypt is by far the largest country in the Arab world and, each year, you have 850,000 new entrants to the labor market there that need jobs. The World Bank said that the Arab world has to create 100 million jobs — 20 million to solve the current unemployment and 80 million for new entrants into the labor market. So this statistic predicted that by 2020, 80 million jobs would have to be created for the new entrants. If you take a look at the current size of the labor market across the region, you have 54 million jobs that exist today. These 54 million jobs took 50 years to create, and, in less than 15 years, we have to create 80 million jobs for new entrants in the labor market.

        The country where the youth unemployment is most severe is Egypt, because you have 22 million youth today between the ages of 15 and 29. And amongst the unemployed in Egypt, 83 percent are youth.

        From what we’ve read, a lot of these young people graduate, and they’re waiting 2, 3, even 6 years, to find a job?

        Well, for 75 percent of Egyptian youth, it takes them five years until they get to their first job. What are they doing in these five years? They’re just hanging out at home and on the streets, unable to graduate into adulthood, to have self-respect and dignity.”

      • seafoid on April 10, 2012, 5:19 pm

        Egypt is a lakhbatah gaamidah
        Climate change will flood the delta with saline water.
        Where will the food come from?
        And how will Israel survive ?

    • Walid on April 15, 2012, 4:28 am

      “I think Khairat al Shater will walk it.”

      Seafoid, the President’s chair has been reserved by the US for Amr Moussa. Yesterday, Suleiman, which is Israel’s candidate, along with al Shater and eight others from the list of 25 runners were disqualified by Egypt’s presidential electoral commission . If the US wants Moussa in the job, nobody else has any chance of winning. The disqualified candidates have 48 hours to appeal the decision.

  8. piotr on April 10, 2012, 12:24 pm

    The real problem is that Amr-Mousa, the true Western pet, can get a runoff with Suleiman. The most popular candidate that would not extend current policies is being disqualified because his late mother, 2 years before she died, and when the candidate was more than 40 year old, allegedly got US citizenship. With him out of the picture, it is conceivable that in the first round Amr-Moussa gets 30%, Suleiman close to 10%, and all other less.

    If there was only one progressive candidate, or if the main candidate of the Brotherhood had more charisma than a wooden plank, of if the main Salafi candidate was not disqualified, Suleiman would not be a problem.

  9. ToivoS on April 10, 2012, 8:09 pm

    A former Israeli Defense Minister said in interview on Army Radio that Suleiman was Israel’s choice for President. This interview made headlines throughout Egypt today. Before this story broke Suleiman was polling at 9%. If he has more than 1% support now I would be surprised.

    • piotr on April 11, 2012, 2:29 am

      Perhaps. Posters with the above photo could help. Barak looks like a swindler who expect arrest any minute.

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