A Man for All Seasons

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A well known rule in politics acknowledges that the more you know the more powerful you become. In a world where clarity is a luxury, it is all about the power of making informed decisions. One piece of information can save lives and create heroes. This explains why Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman, Chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services (EGIS), the national intelligence agency of Egypt, is a very powerful man.

The head of one the most powerful intelligence agencies in the region is a charismatic man with piercing eyes that reflect his shrewd intelligence. Even though he is a very powerful political figure in the Egyptian government and held in high esteem by foreign governments, such as those of the Arab countries, Israel, Palestine and the United States, the name Omar Suleiman is not known to many.

He keeps a low profile and his name was only released to the media around the year 2000, contrary to the norm with intelligence chiefs, who usually remain obscure at all times. The natural secrecy of Middle Eastern governments kept an air of mystery around Suleiman.  It is rare to find anything written about him in Arab magazines or newspapers. Any information about him, his life in the military before he joined the intelligence service, or even during, is hard to find. Ironically though, the profile of Suleiman is of greater presence in the international media,   the "Daily Telegraph" and the Israeli "Haaretz" and other newspapers, acknowledge the growing importance of this man on the international scene. A man who plays a powerful role on the regional scene, well respected among Arab leaders, the US and Israel, is worthy of knowing more about.

When President Hosni Mubarak's car came under a hailstorm of bullets in Addis Ababa nearly 15 years ago, the Egyptian president survived the assassination attempt thanks to Suleiman. He had persuaded President Mubarak to fly his armoured Mercedes from Cairo to Ethiopia rather than ride in an un-armoured vehicle. Suleiman was sitting next to the president when Islamist gunmen opened fire. Among the Egyptian elite, that incident brought him close to the Egyptian president and made him one of the few people in his circle of trust.

In the years since the failed assassination attack, Omar Suleiman has launched an aggressive war on Islamic terrorists. The iron fist of Omar Suleiman and the Egyptian intelligence considerably reduced the threat of terrorism in Egypt within a short time. He is probably the only serving intelligence chief who can claim to have come close to achieving this in his own country. There’s a reason why Al-Qaeda has no foothold whatsoever in Egypt. 

Suleiman was born in1935 in Qena, a poor town in Upper Egypt. He left Qena for Cairo in 1954, at the age of nineteen, to enrol in the Military Academy. Later, he was sent to the Soviet Union to attend military training.  He fought in the 1967 and 1973 wars as well as the Yemen war. His role in these wars remains, like many other things regarding his background, vague, but he distinguished himself as a brilliant military man. Suleiman was transferred to military intelligence and became the director of military intelligence in 1991. Suleiman then rose to the position of Chief of Egyptian Intelligence in 1993 and now he holds the rank of Minister Without Portfolio and Cabinet Member; a rank his predecessors never enjoyed.

He has a Master’s degree in military science and a Master’s degree in political science from Cairo University. He is described by those who know him as a very quiet and a very smart man. Suleiman has received many medals from the state for his efforts. They say he is a carefully dressed man with clear leadership traits. He is married and the father of three girls.

Because of all the reasons mentioned above, in recent years his name has been circulated as a potential candidate to succeed Mubarak himself and become the fifth Egyptian President, or at least, become HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice_President" o "Vice President"Vice President. Although many have circulated these rumours, neither Suleiman nor the National Democratic Party has spoken of this or commented on any future political role for Suleiman. Despite this, it is believed that he remains a plausible presidential candidate, should the next president come from a military background.

Among the things that have increased Suleiman's popularity is that he has become the main intermediary between Fatah and Hamas. More importantly, Suleiman is a key player in Israeli-Palestinian security issues. Since 2000, following the outbreak of the second intifada, he began to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians. He played an instrumental role in brokering many successful truces and deals and had some success negotiating a brief ceasefire in June 2003. Suleiman was responsible for the relative success of the tahadiya (cease-fire) agreement, which granted both communities six months of peace until December 19, 2008. It is remarkable how Suleiman has gained the confidence and trust of the different conflicting parties. The Israelis or the different Palestinian factions would never negotiate with each other but they all agree to talk to Suleiman. Most Israelis praise Suleiman's wisdom and his strategic vision but they are also aware of his unquestioned patriotism.

As one of the world's most powerful spy chiefs, he keeps close ties with MI6, the CIA and other agencies. During the second half of the 1990s, his agency willingly aided American operations against al Qaeda and their extremist allies.

He helped the CIA and placed at its disposal Egyptian interrogators who would help interrogate Al-Qaida detainees. For that, the CIA is grateful and considers the Egyptian intelligence services an ally of great importance and acknowledges its crucial role in the global "war on terrorism".

Suleiman has conducted diplomatic missions in Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia, and can be found in Jerusalem one day and Gaza the next. In the latest push to bring stability to Egypt's war-torn southern neighbour, Suleiman mediated between the Sudanese government and opposition parties.  It is believed that Omar Suleiman is the man who might be able to restore Egypt's regional role and international weight. Being a shrewd diplomat, trusted by many and a respected military man it seems that he may do just that.

Egypt's spy chief is no longer behind the scenes, being one of the few men trusted by the Egyptian president and to whom he gives a lot of power. Suleiman is responsible for The Palestinian- Israeli issue, among others, which grants him a great regional and international importance. The fact that he is trusted and respected by different international parties, and with the wide spread rumour that he may succeed the Egyptian president, all of this, and more, make the name Omar Suleiman one that we should know and remember.


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