Analysis: Delusions of a President Omar Suleiman
CAIRO: The debate over the next President of Egypt and over the succession of power in Egypt after Mubarak has taken many different forms since 2005, which is quite natural after the Constitutional amendments that occurred in the same year. Before the Constitutional amendments, the talk and speculation had been about who has the ability to get to the Presidency after President Mubarak, who has abstained from appointing a Vice-President, which has led many to talk about the suitable person for the nomination for this vacant position. This wide speculation about the identity of the Vice-President was due to the fact that the Vice-President is always the next President in Egypt, as Egypt witnessed this fact twice since the establishment of the republic.
After the Constitutional amendments, the debate over the next President took a different form and public opinion began to predict and speak about the next Egyptian President. The controversy over the candidates for the next presidential election sparked and is still growing as we get further from 2005 and it increases discursively as we approach 2011, when the next presidential election is scheduled to take place.
It is natural that the media start to talk about the next president of Egypt and the candidates for the upcoming elections. Amid the debate over the names of the candidates, a strong current has appeared, discussing the possible nomination of General Omar Suleiman, the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services after the speculations about Suleiman and the possibility of appointing him as Vice-President.
The matter raises two questions: the first: Is it possible for the General to run for President? The second question will be posed and I will try to answer it after answering the first one.
Is it possible for us to wake up one day and read in the newspapers, or hear on satellite channels of the nomination of Suleiman for president, as echoed by many? One can surely answer with “no.”
Ruling out his candidacy here is based on several logical reasons.
The first is the psychological nature of intelligence chiefs. They are people who do not seek power or look for it and this is part of the psychological nature that contributes strongly to nominate someone for this sensitive post. If they were seeking authority or power or having these kinds of aspirations, they would not have been selected for these jobs. These chiefs wouldn’t be appointed unless they are loyal and dedicated to their work.
Let me illustrate my reasons by giving two examples. The first is related to Salah Nasr, one of the most prominent intelligence chiefs in Egypt and who held the post during former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era. He ran the intelligence service from 1957 to 1967, before Nasser asked Nasr to assume the responsibility of Minister of War, shortly after the defeat in the 1967 war, succeeding Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer. Nasr, in turn, rejected this position and resigned a few days later from his post as head of General Intelligence.
The second example is related to Major General Fouad Nassar, head of military intelligence during the 1973 war and the fabled chief of General Intelligence from 1981 to 1983, in which he refused to accept a decision to keep him in office as head of General Intelligence. He insisted on leaving the post as he reached the age of retirement. He is the same man who had refused Sadat’s decision to appoint him as head of Military Intelligence in 1972, but he complied with the late president’s insistence in the end and accepted the appointment.
I believe the two situations mentioned above show the nature of the men who are selected for this sensitive position.
The second reason has to do with the age of the man. Suleiman is 74-years-old, meaning that if he runs, he would be running as a 76-year-old candidate and I think that Suleiman’s name is older and bigger than having this post as a president, as he has been serving as the Director of intelligence for 16 years.
The third reason is that he is not a man of politics and he does not belong to any political party, including the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and he has not engaged in politics before, despite his full knowledge of all the details of the political game on both the domestic and foreign levels. I would not be exaggerating if I say that he is a major player in the events in the Middle East, as he heads the most important authority in Egypt. But full knowledge of the rules of the game alone does not ensure him domestic success and won’t encourage him to run for president. Perhaps it would make him refrain from entering this game, despite his popularity and reputation amongst Egyptians.
Still, he is extremely mysterious on the political level, so on what basis does the citizen have to elect or refuse to elect him?
The fourth reason is that there is no intention by Suleiman to reach the presidency. Let me ask two questions: first, why did Suleiman or any other former intelligence chief try to seize power? The matter is not difficult to accomplish in the country. The second question is why President Mubarak would keep someone who wants, or even thinks of access to power? Try to put yourself in President Mubarak’s position and answer the following question, do you secure your life before even your political future in the presence of a competitor for power? Isn’t it necessary and imperative to get rid of that competitor, or at least keep him distanced from power and bring someone else in who is trusted and experienced, to secure your life and thus devote yourself to matters of governance and politics, while you are assured power? These characteristics are present in Omar Suleiman, who saved the life of President from several assassinations attempt, where the public knows little about them, except for the famous incident in Addis Ababa.
Reasons behind the speculation over Suleiman`s candidacy:
Certainly, there are reasons that prompted some people to suggest the idea and speculate over the nomination of Suleiman. One of them was mentioned by British writer David Blair, who wrote in the Daily Telegraph that Suleiman has the exceptional ability to deal with political crises and diplomacy, as was evidenced in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas, as well as professionally managing the situation in a very diplomatic way.
Blair adds that “Suleiman emerged from the shadows dramatically over the past few years, where he became one of the most influential figures in the files of the Middle East for the strong partnerships formed by the intelligence services in the world, in addition to his success in the development of Egyptian intelligence, and [Suleiman has] played a great role in commanding a ‘big foreign presence through their embassies overseas,’ making the Egyptian Intelligence impressive and well-resourced.” In fact, the words of the British writer, although true, does not mean that he intends to run for president or to get closer to the world of politics.
This argument simply means Suleiman is a very strong intelligence chief, which is real, because if not, he wouldn’t have been retained for16 years.
In fact, Suleiman manages these files as the head of General Intelligence and not because of any political or diplomatic status. After what we mentioned above, it seems to me that the idea of nominating him for president is like someone who tries to construct a building while he is not a construction worker who is trying to build it without the base or foundation.
Still, there is a question that should be raised here: why the issue of nominating Suleiman for president is being raised and promoted, while Suleiman himself has not declared his willingness to run for the post?
Only two real possibilities appear to me, and a third is the ignorance of the promoters of these speculations and their desire to write anything that is strange and unexpected, to impress non-specialist readers.
The first possibility is those Egyptian and Arabic writers, who still believe that the solution is always found by national military institutions, such as military intelligence or the military.
The second possibility is the practical application of the so-called conspiracy theory that the regime is working on a scenario of the bequeathal of power, through the introduction of some of the names that are loved and respected by Egyptians.
The second possibility is seeing positive publicity for the political system that appears in the form of a democratic system that does not monopolize power and does not restrict the right of anyone to run for president.
The answer to that question is simple. Everyone knows the truth about Constitutional amendments. It will not allow any candidate who is not welcomed by the NDP to run and therefore a name like Omar Suleiman, head of General Intelligence, won’t lead anyone to think that the regime would block such an attempt or to hinder his candidacy for the election. The majority would think that hindering him would only be based on a prior arrangement and not just a personal desire from the man himself.
The third objective and the last is paving the way for Gamal Mubarak to reach power, by placing him on the list of the best candidates, along with names and figures like Omar Suleiman, Amr Moussa, and others. Then, when the times comes for the candidates, Gamal Mubarak alone would nominate himself and no one from the names listed would participate. This means Gamal Mubarak would be the only prominent candidate against other unknown rivals who were never heard of by the public.
Thus, electing Mubarak Jr. is an inevitable matter, considering him the only known candidate to the people. This is an application of the famous Egyptian proverb: “who we know is better than someone we don’t.”
**Hany al-Aasar is an Egyptian journalist and researcher.