Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s former spy chief, has died in the US while undergoing medical examination.
He was appointed vice-president by Hosni Mubarak, the then-Egyptian president on January 29, 2011.
The move, the first ever such appointment since Mubarak became president in 1981, was part of a shake-up of the cabinet in an attempt to appease days of mass protests aimed at forcing Mubarak to resign.
Nearly two weeks later, Mubarak handed over some of his powers to Suleiman, though he did not specify which ones.
“I have delegated to the vice-president some of the power – the powers of the president according to the constitution,” Mubarak said in a televised address on February 10.
On February 11, Suleiman appeared on state television for a brief statement in which he announced that the president was “waiving” his office, and had handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Suleiman joined the race for the country’s presidency in April, but his candidature was rejected for failing to collect a sufficient number of signatures from 15 Egyptian governorates.
In the shadows
Suleiman had long been favoured by the US government for his ardent anti-Islamism and his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran.
Suleiman: The CIA’s man in Cairo
The Egyptian secret service regularly rounded up and arrested Muslim activists.
Suleiman was also a favourite of Israel, having held the Israel dossier and directed Egypt’s efforts to crush Hamas by demolishing the tunnels that functioned as a smuggling conduit for both weapons and foodstuffs into Gaza.
From 1993, Suleiman was chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
He remained largely in the shadows until 2001, when he started taking over powerful assignments in the foreign ministry.
Unusually for an Egyptian secret service chief, Suleiman came into the public view for his efforts to mediate between Palestinian groups and Israel.
He had some success negotiating a brief ceasefire in June 2003.
His efforts earned him the respect of Egyptian, Israeli and US diplomats and politicians, with many, including Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli Knesset member, calling Suleiman a positive influence on negotiations.
But his critics questioned his motivation – saying he acted only to quell popular Egyptian sentiment.
Suleiman was born in Qena, in the south of Egyptin 1936.
He left for Cairo at the age of 19 to enroll in Egypt’s military academy and went on to receive advanced army training in Russia.
He took part in both the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, though details of his service are unclear.
Both Mubarak and Suleiman survived an assassination attempt in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, where they were due to attend an African summit in June 1995.
The limousine Suleiman and Mubarak were travelling in came under fire, killing a number of bodyguards travelling with their convoy, before the driver was able to turn the car round and return to the airport.
The attack was blamed on members of the al-Qaeda-linked Egyptian Islamic Jihad, also known as the Society of Struggle, and said to be co-ordinated by Showqi al-Islambouli, a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
His brother, Khalid Ahmed Showqi al-Islambouli, arranged and carried out the assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, during a military parade in October 1981.
Suleiman’s position as head of the Arab world’s most significant intelligence agency and his closeness to Mubarak, gave rise to speculation that he could contend with Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, for the position of Egypt’s next ruler.
According to a US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks, entitled ‘Presidential Succession in Egypt’, dated May 14, 2007:
“Egyptian intelligence chief and Mubarak consigliere, in past years Soliman was often cited as likely to be named to the long-vacant vice-presidential post. In the past two years, Soliman has stepped out of the shadows, and allowed himself to be photographed, and his meetings with foreign leaders reported. Many of our contacts believe that Soliman, because of his military background, would at least have to figure in any succession scenario.”
In 2009, he was touted by some media outlets as the most powerful spy in the region, topping even the head of Mossad.
Following his appointment, Suleiman appeared to alienate many Egyptians when he said that he wanted to see democracy, but adding quickly: “But when will we do that? When the people here have the culture of democracy.”
The White House, which sees Suleiman as a welcome successor to Mubarak, said his remark was unhelpful.
“I don’t think that in any way squares with what those seeking greater opportunity and freedom think is a timetable for progress,” spokesman Robert Gibbs told a news briefing.
Suleiman had rejected the central demand of the protest movement that Mubarak leave office immediately.
He had insisted that Mubarak and his government stay in office to see through a transition process leading to constitutional amendments and a free presidential election.
However, he had offered the opposition little to make them trust the government’s good intentions, after years of what rights groups say have been rigged elections and brutality against political dissidents.
The government denied the charges.