- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in his fit of frantic cabinet shuffling, has elevated his long-standing intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to a new post as his first-ever vice president. Suleiman is a looming figure in Middle East spook circles with long-standing connections to U.S. intelligence operatives — see Jeff Stein and Pat Lang for more on this — and appears several times in the WikiLeaks U.S. State Department cables, mostly in the context of briefings with top U.S. military officials preoccupied with Iran’s influence in the region.
More germane to Suleiman’s new gig is a 2007 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, signed by U.S. Amb. Francis J. Ricciardone, gaming out possible secession scenarios should Mubarak step down from the presidency — including the role of Suleiman, described here as Mubarak’s "consigliere:"
MANY OF OUR CONTACTS BELIEVE THAT SOLIMAN, BECAUSE OF HIS MILITARY BACKGROUND, WOULD AT THE LEAST HAVE TO FIGURE IN ANY SUCCESSION SCENARIO FOR GAMAL [Mubarak, Hosni’s son and likely successor], POSSIBLY AS A TRANSITIONAL FIGURE. SOLIMAN HIMSELF ADAMANTLY DENIES ANY PERSONAL AMBITIONS, BUT HIS INTEREST AND DEDICATION TO NATIONAL SERVICE IS OBVIOUS. HIS LOYALTY TO MUBARAK SEEMS ROCK-SOLID. AT AGE 71, HE COULD BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE RULING APPARATUS AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE AS A RELIABLE FIGURE UNLIKELY TO HARBOR AMBITIONS FOR ANOTHER MULTI-DECADE PRESIDENCY. A KEY UNANSWERED QUESTION IS HOW HE WOULD RESPOND TO A GAMAL PRESIDENCY ONCE MUBARAK IS DEAD. AN ALLEGED PERSONAL FRIEND OF SOLIMAN TELLS US THAT SOLIMAN "DETESTS" THE IDEA OF GAMAL AS PRESIDENT, AND THAT HE ALSO WAS "DEEPLY PERSONALLY HURT" BY MUBARAK, WHO PROMISED TO NAME HIM VICE-PRESIDENT SEVERAL YEARS AGO, BUT THEN RENEGED.