The life and times of Omar Suleiman

When it rains, it pours. One day after a Damascus bombing killed at least three top Syrian security officials, Egypt’s former intelligence chief and vice president, Omar Suleiman, has passed away in a U.S. hospital. "He was fine," said his aide. "It came suddenly while he was having medical tests in Cleveland." Unlike the assassinated ...

MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images
MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images
MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images

When it rains, it pours. One day after a Damascus bombing killed at least three top Syrian security officials, Egypt's former intelligence chief and vice president, Omar Suleiman, has passed away in a U.S. hospital. "He was fine," said his aide. "It came suddenly while he was having medical tests in Cleveland."

Unlike the assassinated Syrian officials, Suleiman was largely a spent force -- an insider's insider under President Hosni Mubarak whose political star fell with last year's revolution. His influence had been further degraded by his disqualification from the recent presidential election, and the eventual victory of a candidate from the movement that he had spent a lifetime repressing -- the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

When it rains, it pours. One day after a Damascus bombing killed at least three top Syrian security officials, Egypt’s former intelligence chief and vice president, Omar Suleiman, has passed away in a U.S. hospital. "He was fine," said his aide. "It came suddenly while he was having medical tests in Cleveland."

Unlike the assassinated Syrian officials, Suleiman was largely a spent force — an insider’s insider under President Hosni Mubarak whose political star fell with last year’s revolution. His influence had been further degraded by his disqualification from the recent presidential election, and the eventual victory of a candidate from the movement that he had spent a lifetime repressing — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.

Up until the last moment, Suleiman did not see Egypt’s revolution coming. At a group dinner on Jan. 24, 2011 — the day before massive protests would first rock the Mubarak regime — he dismissed the possibility that the Tunisian revolt could repeat itself in Cairo. "Tunisia cannot happen here," he said, according to FP contributor Steven A. Cook’s The Struggle for Egypt. "The president is strong and the police have a strategy."

Suleiman may have had a blind spot when it came to the Egyptian revolution, but for decades prior he was renowned as the all-seeing eye of the Mubarak regime – the man who kept his boot on the neck of the regime’s opponents, and who was one of the president’s most likely heirs. Here is a selection of Foreign Policy’s coverage of the former spymaster.

Egypt’s Next Strongman: In August 2009, when Issandr Amrani wrote this article, the struggle to succeed the octogenarian Mubarak appeared to be a game played out exclusively among regime insiders. Here, Amrani profiles the two likeliest contenders: Mubarak’s son Gamal and Omar Suleiman.

At the time, constitutional obstacles seemed to prevent Suleiman from winning the presidency — but Amrani suggested that many Egyptians may actually welcome his rise to prevent a hereditary succession. "[M]ost Suleiman supporters recognize that to gain the presidency he would most likely have to carry out a coup — perhaps a soft, constitutional one, but a coup nonetheless," he wrote. "Strange though it sounds, many Egyptians would find such a coup acceptable.

After the Party: On Feb. 11, 2011, a somber-looking Suleiman delivered a brief televised statement announcing that Hosni Mubarak had resigned the presidency, and passed power to a council of top military leaders. That same day, Ashraf Khalil penned this article for FP exploring what would come next for Egypt following the 18-day revolt.

Suleiman, at the time, was still a major part of that equation. Khalil characterized his initial entry into the political arena as "a complete PR disaster," as he alienated protesters by "coming off as condescending, dismissive of the [protest] movement, and reliant on antiquated regime rhetoric." His interview with ABC News’s Christian Amanpour — where he repeatedly attacked the "Brother Muslimhood" — didn’t help matters either.

Mubarak’s Enforcer: This FP list, written after Suleiman announced that he would "bow to popular will" and enter the presidential race, catalogued the former spy chief’s career as Mubarak’s most trusted enforcer.

Suleiman’s list of responsibilities under Mubarak was long: He was the CIA’s point man for renditions, overseeing the transfer of suspects from the U.S. intelligence agency to Egyptian prisons, where they were often subject to torture. He was the Israelis’ most trusted contact within the Egyptian government, enjoying strong working relations with an array of top officials in Jerusalem. And he was charged with keeping the Muslim Brotherhood down in Egypt, and Hamas down in Cairo. In carrying out these tasks, according to U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker, "he was not squeamish."

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