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
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.
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
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
“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.
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.
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.
with Mubarak every day, a privilege enjoyed by no other minister.
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
No court could have dealt with the intelligence body, because it was
beyond the law. This was the organization and this was Suleiman,” Kedar
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,”
“He symbolized a small, secular layer in Egyptian society
that was wealthy and corrupt.
That’s why it was
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.
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
Suleiman knew “the Israeli and Palestinian arenas better than
anyone in Egypt,” Karmon said.
Reuters contributed to this report.