A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, September 3, 2010

What's With the ‘Omar Suleiman Move?

I didn't fully appreciate, in my note yesterday about the ‘Omar Suleiman posters popping up around Cairo, that this happened when both the President and "Jimmy" (Gamal) were in Washington peaceifying. That is, indeed, a curious piece of timing, and there's a whiff of grapeshot coming from it all: is the intelligence community/Armed Forces sending a message here?

The internal machinations of the Egyptian elite (and, since the Sadat era, especially the military relations with the political sphere) are as opaque as the internal dynamics of the Saudi princes: those who think they know what's going on are almost certainly wrong. But reflecting on the timing — ElBaradei's star is fading; Gamal in in DC getting a taste of diplomacy; Saad Ibrahim gave Gamal a big PR boost, willingly or no — this is interesting timing.

A comment on my post of yesterday, and my response thereto, are worth repeating:
aron said...

"The fact that Suleiman still has his job suggests ... that he's not behind it"

Shouldn't he, well, say that? If it's really that clear where he stands on succession, one can't help but think a public statement would be in order. The absence of one is what's really perplexing.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Perplexing,yes, but typical. Suleiman almost never speaks for the record, never says much to the press, and then ONLY on Israeii-Palestinian issues, the one part of his portfolio that he's allowed (or perhaps chooses) to comment on publicly. His rare public appearances are off the record; I attended one some years ago, but have to respect the ground rules, though he said nothing of substance you don't already know. He's a classic spook. Say nothing much, and say even that on deep background.

I don't think he could make stump speeches: the aversion in professional spooks is pretty ingrained.

Now, the early commentary is interesting. Zeinobia is concerned, wondering why the supposed supporters of Suleiman say (I haven't found that quote) that security (presumably State Security, thus, the Interior Ministry) is supporting Gamal. She wonders if there is a rift between the Interior Ministry and the Military. It's a good question, but if this is some kind of ploy while Mubsrak is out of the country, it seems unlikely to be initiated by Suleiman. But then, if it's not, why doesn't he repudiate it?

Suleiman, at 74, is no youngster, has close links with the US and Israel (particularly with their intelligence bodies), and until a few years ago had no public profile whatsoever. Does that make him qualified to be President? (Well, I suppose if you compare him to Gamal . . .)

There's a new Facebook campaign, including as a starter a detailed hio of the man.

So who is this guy?

He was born in the Qena Governorate of Upper Egypt in 1936, and that makes him the rare Upper Egyptian in a regime whose elite are mostly from roots in the Delta, many from Menufiyya like Mubarak (and Sadat). He attended the Military Academy and served in the War in Yemen and the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, though his exact role is not stated. He served first in Military Intelligence, rose to command it in 1991, and in 1993 shifted to the General cntelligence Service (in US terms, shifting from DIA to CIA, but with both agencies far more powerful inside the regime).

In June 1995, he was in the car with Mubarak when it was attacked by assassins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Mubarak reportedly credits Suleiman with saving his life, and the two men have been personally close ever since. Traditionally the head of General Intelligence is never mentioned, but since about 2000 when he began to be involved directly as an Israeli-Palestinian mediator, he's regularly appeared in news photos.

Still, he's a man of the shadows, and there's little to suggest he wants the Presidency, though as the commenter above notes, it's time for him to say so if he doesn't. If he really is moving for the Presidenxcy and/or there's a split between the military and Interior Ministry over the succession, this could be important.

1 comment:

Abu 'Arqala said...

A clever ploy to undermine him and the political forces he represents? And pave the way for Jimmy?