Former Egyptian intelligence chief dies in the US (JERUSALEM POST) By YAAKOV KATZ 07/20/12)
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Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s former intelligence chief who was a pillar of
the Mubarak regime, died aged 76 while undergoing a medical
examination in the US on Thursday.
Born in Upper Egypt in 1936, Suleiman enrolled in the country’s
Military Academy at age 18. He rose through the ranks, and took part
in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War against Israel.
In 1993, after being appointed by president Hosni Mubarak to head the
all-powerful General Intelligence Directorate, Suleiman focused his
attention on dismantling Islamist organizations in Egypt.
He stepped briefly into the limelight last year when Mubarak’s made
him his vice president to try to end the Arab Spring uprising against
his three-decade rule. The gamble failed when the Egyptians who had
massed in the streets to demand Mubarak step down rejected the
political concessions Suleiman offered to appease them.
Many protesters were incensed when Suleiman suggested they were not
ready for democracy.
“My heart hurts for him. He believed in the peace treaty for Egypt –
not for Israel – but Egypt,” Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former
Israeli defense minister and close associate of Suleiman, said after
the death was announced.
Suleiman enjoyed close relations with senior Israeli defense chiefs
over the years, coordinating closely with Jerusalem on issues
pertaining to regional stability and acting as a bridge between
Israel and the Palestinians.
“He was a patriot. He had incredible knowledge of the world. If we
turned to him for something, there was never a time that he didn’t
get back to us on the same day,” Ben- Eliezer said.
But Suleiman’s alliance with the Israeli defense community was just
one part of the spy chief’s uncompromising war on Islamists in Egypt
and in the region, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior Middle East expert
from Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies,
told The Jerusalem Post.
“He saw us as allies against extreme Islamists. We fought them and so
did he,” Kedar said.
“Egyptian intelligence was like the Mossad and the Shin Bet put
together. It handled foreign and domestic intelligence.
This was a very strong organization, a state within a state. It was
the main body that safeguarded the stability of the presidency, and
then the state – in that order,” he added.
Suleiman met with Mubarak every day, a privilege enjoyed by no other
“As head of intelligence, the president’s ear was by his mouth. His
organization never had any budget problems,” Kedar said.
Suleiman’s war against opponents of the Mubarak regime was wholly
above the law, and often involved torture of suspects “to get them to
sign things they did and didn’t do.
No court could have dealt with the intelligence body, because it was
beyond the law. This was the organization and this was Suleiman,”
The intelligence chief operated in the shadows for many years before
stepping into the light, though his presence could be felt everywhere
in Egypt. The intelligence agency relied on a highly effective system
of informers. It also enjoyed its own internal communications system
that was practically immune to eavesdropping.
“The organization was basically autonomous,” Kedar said.
“He symbolized a small, secular layer in Egyptian society that was
wealthy and corrupt.
That’s why it was anti-Islamic.”
Shortly before his death, Suleiman expressed concerns that the whole
of Egypt would come under the dangerous sway of the Muslim
“Many people felt that the state is going to the Muslim Brotherhood –
in parliament, in government and now the presidency,” Suleiman told
Reuters during the recent election campaign.
In the past, Suleiman had been described as a powerful presence in
any room. Prof.
Hillel Frisch, also from the Begin-Sadat Center, said, “He speaks
little and asks questions with much authority.”
In the 1990s, Suleiman was tasked with stemming a major terrorism
campaign launched by the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya group, which killed
hundreds of members of the Egyptian security forces and foreign
tourists in a string of attacks. In 2003, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya
renounced terrorism, and other Islamist elements were weakened or
forced to disband due to Suleiman’s efforts.
The intelligence chief was extremely well versed in the affairs of
both Israel and the Palestinians, Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior researcher
at the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism at the
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post last year.
Suleiman knew “the Israeli and Palestinian arenas better than anyone
in Egypt,” Karmon said.
Reuters contributed to this report. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
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