Middle East

Obituary: Omar Suleiman, Egypt's former spy chief

Omar Suleiman (6 February 2011)
Image caption Suleiman was a senior figure from the Mubarak era who attempted to run in the 2012 presidential poll

Egyptian presidential candidate Omar Suleiman, who has died aged 77, was closely associated with the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.

He became the country's first vice-president in 30 years on 29 January 2011, four days after the popular uprising against Mr Mubarak began.

Two weeks later, it was Gen Suleiman who appeared on state television to announce the long-time president had stepped down.

For the previous 18 years, Gen Suleiman had been head of Egypt's intelligence services, where he gained an international reputation as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

He also tried to secure the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was eventually freed by militants in Gaza in October 2011 in return for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Since Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel in 1979, its Western allies saw its involvement in such negotiations as key to its strategic regional importance.

Gen Suleiman was a frequent visitor to the United States, where he died in hospital. The precise causes of death remain unclear but a diplomat was quoted as saying he had been suffering lung disease and heart problems.

Trusted associate

Born in 1935 in Qena in Upper Egypt, Omar Suleiman joined the army in 1954 and received advanced training at the Frunze Military Academy in the former Soviet Union. He also gained a master's degree in political science at Cairo University.

Afterwards he moved quickly through the ranks of government intelligence. In 1991, he became director of Military Intelligence and two years later, he was named director of the General Intelligence Department.

His long military career - serving in the 1962 Yemen conflict and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 - gave him widespread support in the armed services, the most powerful institution in Egypt.

However, he also proved to be a trusted associate of Hosni Mubarak. In 1995, his quick wits may have saved the Egyptian leader's life during an assassination attempt on his motorcade in Ethiopia.

Although he showed little political ambition, Gen Suleiman was often mentioned as a possible successor for President Mubarak who would continue a trend of military strongmen who have led Egypt since the 1952 revolution.

In 2010, posters supporting the general mysteriously appeared in central Cairo, only to be swiftly taken down.

Gen Suleiman did attempt to run as a candidate in the 2012 presidential election. There were signs that he could have been popular with a large swathe of the electorate seeking law and order after a tumultuous year.

Image caption Omar Suleiman's presidential bid was thought to have the backing of the ruling military council

He was seen as having the backing of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).

However, the prospect of his presidential bid proved deeply unpopular with young revolutionaries and Islamists who suffered at the hands of the former regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood leader, Khairat al-Shater, called his potential candidacy "an insult" to the Egyptian people, and warned of a return to turmoil if the former spy chief won.

The Brotherhood participated in protests against him in Tahrir Square, dismissing the general as "falul", a remnant of the former regime.

Ultimately, Gen Suleiman was one of 10 candidates disqualified by the Higher Presidential Election Commission. It said that he had failed to get enough signatures to endorse his candidacy.

There had been few reports about Gen Suleiman since. He was not known to have been suffering from a medical condition.

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