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Omar Suleiman

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Egyptian TV late on Thursday night 11 February 2011 that he will hand power to Vice President Omar Suleiman as laid out in the constitution but did not say he was stepping down. "I consider it appropriate to hand over the powers of the head of state to the vice president in accordance with the constitution," Mubarak said. Mubarak appointed Suleiman, the intelligence chief, as vice president on January 29, four days after protests against Mubarak's 30-year rule broke out in the North African country.

Long-time Mubarak consigliere Omar Suleiman (also spelled Omar Soliman, Omar Sulaiman, Omar Suleiman and seldom Umar Sulayman) was sworn in as vice president of Egypt on Saturday, 29 January 2011. In practice, recent Egyptian Presidents were succeeded by their Vice Presidents. President Hosni Mubarak had not previously named a Vice President. Analysts had long believed that Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who had been an interlocutor between Palestinians and Israelis, could be a potential successor to Mubarak.

Omar Suleiman was born on 1936 in Qena, in Southern Egypt. He attented Egypt's premier Military Academy in 1954 and also received military training at Moscow's Frunze Military Academy. Suleiman was involved in the war in Yemen in the years of 1962, 1967 and 1973 against Israel. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in Political Science from Ain Shams University and Cairo Universitys in the mid-1980's. Omar Suleiman headed the General Opeartions Authority in the Armed Forces which then led him to become the Director of the Military Intelligende Unit in 1991 during the Gulf War, when Egypt was among the Arab forces that helped the US-led coalition.

Omar Suleiman was Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service since 1993. Prior to that time, Maj. Gen. 'Umar Sulayman had served as Egyptian Minister for Presidential Affairs. Omar Soliman in past years was often cited as likely to be named to the long-vacant vice-presidential post. Since 2005 Soliman had stepped out of the shadows, and allowed himself to be photographed, and his meetings with foreign leaders reported.

He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism. Suleiman, has met with Hamas and Palestinian Authority figures in order to secure ceasefire arrangements with Israel. In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's decision to pursue a unilateral Israel withdrawal from Gaza, Egypt signaled a new readiness to play a constructive role in making the region secure. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman became the point man in discussions with the Palestinians, delivering the message of the United States and the Quartet that the Palestinians must consolidate and reform their security forces and empower their prime minister rather than Chairman Arafat.

For the first time since the outbreak of violence, Egypt put significant pressure on Yasser Arafat. President Mubarak's envoy, General Omar Suleiman, has demanded that Arafat relinquish control over all Palestinian security forces and agree to their consolidation. In addition, he has told Arafat he must fire more than 70 corrupt Palestinian officials, or risk losing any Egyptian financial assistance. Egypt has expressed its willingness to train the Palestinian security services in Gaza as the disengagement plan proceeds.

On February 1, 2006, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman demanded that Hamas should "one, stop the violence. Two, it should become doctrine with them tobe committed to all the agreements signed with Israel. Three, they have to recognize Israel ... If Hamas won't commit to these conditions, Mahmoud Abbas is not obligedto ask them to form a government." Suleiman mediated the June 2008 Israel-Hamas cease fireand indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange for Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas captured in June 2006. Bilateral Egyptian-Israeli consultations were headed by Egyptian head of Intelligence Omar Suleiman and Israel's Ministry of Defense advisor Amos Gilead.

Soliman, because of his military background, would at the least have to figure in any succession scenario for Gamal, 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 75 [in 2011], 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. It is said 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.

By 2008 Egypt was not the regional leader it had been over the past few decades - this mantle had fallen to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is uncomfortable taking over this role but saw no choice, because of the perceived threat from Iran. There were several reasons for Egypt's decline in leadership. Mubarak was getting older and no longer had the energy to provide the leadership he once did, and no one in the government, including his son or Omar Sulayman the chief of the Egyptian External Intelligence Service, had replaced him in regional relations.

Omar Soliman having been a senior army officer and head of Egyptian intelligence, there was a period in which people could think of him as a possible successor to Mubarak himself. Both of Mubarak's possible successors - intelligence chief Omar Soliman and Gamal Mubarak - were likely to continue Mubarak's foreign policy, but Gamal might seek to liberalize Egyptian domestic politics over time. Mubarak's potential successor would not greatly alter the course of Egyptian foreign policy or Cairo's relationship with the United States.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:55 ZULU