It had been nearly seven years since I met Omar Suleiman in Washington DC, and three months ago would be my last attempt to see the former Egyptian intelligence chief.
In April I had visited Cairo to learn more information about the suspicious death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The results of that investigation were recently broadcast in our exclusive film “What Killed Arafat?”
As you can watch here for yourself, there were half a dozen Egyptian doctors who huddled around Arafat in October 2004 during his final month of life, and I wanted to jog their memories.
One of the physicians I spoke with, Dr Omar Zaki, confided to our cameras that both he and the leader of the Egyptian medical delegation, Dr Ibrahim Moustafa, had prepared a concluding medical report for Omar Suleiman on Arafat’s condition.
So it naturally gave me cause to try and meet with Suleiman, even though I knew he would be busy with the Presidential campaign. I reconnected by phone with Suleiman’s long time aide, Hussein Kamal, and was given a polite “the time is not right”. Given all that was happening in Egypt, it was unusually convincing.
That the head of Egyptian Intelligence wanted detailed notes on the stages of Arafat’s worsening deathbed condition is not surprising. Omar Suleiman had come to view Arafat as an impediment to peace, much the same as the majority of the world at the time. Even still, Arafat’s passing would and did have incredible implications for both Egypt and Israel.
But Suleiman also hated Hamas, the Palestinian affiliate of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. I know this because at our meeting in Washington he told an influential gathering at my former employer, the Middle East Institute, that the West should support repressive government policies towards the Ikhwan rather than dialogue. “They must be killed,” is what Suleiman said to my astonishment.
His anti-Hamas attitude was also colourfully reflected in the story we broke last year called “The Palestine Papers” in addition to leaked US state department cables published by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.
Suleiman leaves this world with many dark secrets, perhaps unrivalled save for Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who also met his maker yesterday. What a fascinating conversation the two of them could have.
But if I had one question to ask Suleiman now, it would have been what I had been prepared to ask him in April: Was there anything in the medical report you had requested in 2004 on Arafat’s declining health that surprised you?
Should his surviving daughters or longtime aide Hussein Kamal find the Egyptian medical file on Arafat lying around, they can feel free to send it to Al Jazeera. “
They might also offer it up to the Arab League headquarters, which met on Tuesday in Cairo. Prompted by our airing of “What Killed Arafat?” and the widespread reaction and interest, the Arab League resolved to finally create its own investigative commission to probe Arafat’s death.
One would think that as governments they should stand far better chances of obtaining Suleiman’s secret Arafat’s files than I could as a journalist. That’s presuming, of course, that they also want to learn the truth.