Cook: Tales of Omar Suleiman

Tales of Omar Suleiman - By Steven A. Cook | Foreign Policy:

The last time I saw Omar Pasha was on Jan. 24, 2011 -- on the eve of the Egyptian revolution. I was with a group of foreign-policy experts, business leaders, and philanthropists and we met in an auditorium at the GIS headquarters. It was hard not to notice the freaky, yoga studio-like music that was playing over the sound system. When Suleiman arrived, he sat alone on a dais and spoke into a microphone, even though the delegation numbered only about 25 people seated in the second row of the auditorium, behind a gaggle of GIS courtiers. During the meeting, we learned that the United States had supplied Egypt with the technology to turn off the Internet -- something the Egyptians would employ in earnest, though not terribly effectively, less than 24 hours later.

By Jan. 24, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had already fallen and a wave of self-immolations in Egypt had led to widespread speculation about whether the revolution was headed east. Naturally, therefore, someone in our delegation asked Suleiman whether the Tunisian revolt could happen in his country. But even at this late hour, he was as contemptuous of change as he had been six years ago, when he slammed his first down on the Washington conference table. "No," he responded. "The police have a strategy and the president is strong." Even at the time, the hubris was astonishing.

One of my big regrets, never meeting Omar Pasha. I do have some insight accrued over years of keeping notes on him and talking to people who dealt with him — mostly foreigner diplomats and spies and some Egyptian ones too. The takeaway is that he was actually fairly mediocre behind all the bluster and powersuits and Cuban cigars, and there is no better illustration of this than his handling of the Hamas issue in Gaza. Suleiman's declared policy of ultimately crushing Hamas failed all the way, to the extent that people who dealt with him on this issue would joke about the "three-point plan" (engage, contain, crush) he would systematically trot out. Suleiman (unlike some of his predecessors when Egypt was at war with Israel) was ultimately the product of a system that only sought to maintain itself, showed little initiative or daring in foreign policy, and — being so concerned with status-quo and so-called "stability" — appeared to mostly keep busy by keeping everyone going around in circles (exhibit A: Egypt's handling of Palestinian reconciliation talks).

I find it pretty outrageous he was given a state funeral and am surprised people did not try to disrupt it. One day, US archives of Suleiman's handywork, especially on the rendition program, might be open and we'll find out the full extent of complicity in his shenanigans. 

Of course Omar Suleiman's office is entirely black

This photo, which ran with David Kirkpatrick's story on Suleiman in the NYT, had the caption "Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s former intelligence chief, in his Cairo office."

So Omar Suleiman paints his office walls black. What else!? And is that shiny bit behind him the hyperbaric chamber he sleeps in? And on the right side, the mini-fridge where he keeps body parts and truth serums.

Also confirms that really powerful people do not use computers. Kind of disappointed that there's no picture of Hosni there. Where's the love, Omar Pasha?

The Daily Show on Abu Ismail

Jon Stewart on Abu Ismail's American mama, making parallels with the Obama birther conspiracy.

Might also check out Egypt's own Daily Show, al-Barnameg, on Omar Suleiman serial failures as intelligence chief as well — Sudan split up, Gaza was taken over by Hamas, etc. A few years ago Suleiman was hailed by Foreign Policy as some kind of masterspy, but his record is actually fairly lackluster...

More on Omar Suleiman, torturer-in-chief

I'm seeing my 2009 Foreign Policy profile of Omar Suleiman cited far and wide since Omar Basha filed to run in the elections, and it's been an occasion for reporters to review a bunch of what's been written about him over the years. Of particular interest is all the work Suleiman did torturing people for the United States, particularly this chilling Ron Suskind anecdote that this Feb. 2011 ABC report by Matthew Cole and Sarah Wall talks about:

Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, called Suleiman the "hit man" for the Mubarak regime. He told ABC News that when the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man's whole arm instead.

"He's a charitable man, friendly," said Suskind. "He tortures only people that he doesn't know."

Suskind said Suleiman "was our point man in Egypt for many years. Everything went through Omar. We never had to talk to anyone else. When we wanted someone to be tortured, we'd send him to Egypt to have them tortured. We wanted to get intelligence and we didn't need it to be stuff that could be doublechecked."

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in particular has reviewed books written about the war on terror and unearthed this tidbit about Suleiman's role in giving the Bush administration the lies it wanted to justify invading Iraq, in the rendition case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi:

What happened to Libi in Egypt, while in the custody of the Egyptian intelligence service, is documented in detail in a bipartisan report released in 2006 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the report, Libi later told the C.I.A. that the Egyptian authorities grew dissatisfied with his level of cooperation, so they locked him in a tiny cage for eighty hours. Then they took him out, knocked him over, and punched him for fifteen minutes. The Egyptian officials were pressing Libi, who knew Bin Laden personally, to confirm the Bush Administration’s contention that there were links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In particular, the Egyptians wanted Libi to confirm that the Iraqis were in the process of giving Al Qaeda biological and chemical weapons. In pushing this line of inquiry, the Egyptians appear to have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the U.S., which wanted to document its case for going to war against Iraq. Under duress, Libi eventually gave in. Details from his confession went into the pivotal speech that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in Feburary of 2003, making the case for war.

Several years later, however, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned up no such weapons of mass destruction, or ties between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Libi recanted. When the F.B.I. later asked him why he had lied, he blamed the brutality of the Egyptian intelligence service. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn first reported in their book, “Hubris,” Libi explained, “They were killing me,” and that, “I had to tell them something.”

Although some in Egypt and the US see Suleiman's as "the CIA's candidate" I am not sure that the Obama administration sees his candidacy as a good thing — a victory causing as it would no end of destabilization of Egypt's political scene. The administration has worked pretty fast to turn the page and engage with the emerging political power represented by the Muslim Brotherhood — and as long as the Brothers are telling them they don't want to interfere in the bilateral military relationship or review the peace treaty with Israel, I suspect they are fine with that.

Incidentally, one more thing about Omar Basha: it is said that on September 4, 2001, he warned the US Embassy in Cairo about an imminent al-Qaeda attack on the US. So did the Saudis at the time, based on chatter in their informant networks. Like the August intelligence memo Condoleeza Rice disregarded, it was never passed up.

More reading:

Omar Suleiman's gall

I have to confess I was skeptical about Omar Suleiman's run in recent days, especially when you consider the press reporting it was only going on a statement he'd allegedly made to MENA and he has yet to appear on television or in public talking about his campaign. But we're getting more confirmation with this interview with al-Akhbar, as reported by Reuters. I have a hard time seeing Suleiman win (unless the election is rigged) but he can certainly be useful in stirring up anti-MB sentiment to other candidates' advantage — especially if he uses some of the documents and recordings he no doubt has saved from his years as spy chief. 

Quite galling to see him try to pretend he has democratic credentials, though:

In the interview, Suleiman also projected himself as an opposition figure within the Mubarak regime, saying he had objected to many policies, laws and "what transpired" in 2010 parliamentary elections, which were probably the most rigged vote since Egypt's 1953 overthrow of the monarchy.

"Those who think that my candidacy for president means reinventing the former regime must realize that being the head of the General Intelligence Agency or vice president for a few days does not mean that I was part of an institution against which people revolted," Suleiman said.

The 75-year-old Suleiman said he has received death threats from "elements" of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups since he announced his candidacy on Friday. "Those who think that these threats will make me change my position or force me to abandon my candidacy for the presidency are deluding themselves," he said.

For several years before the January 2011 uprising, people close to Suleiman would whisper to whoever would listen that Omar Basha was against the NDP businessmen, against vote-rigging, and most laughably against torture and police brutality. It was part of the effort to position him as a man with both experience and some sort of liberal credentials. It was ridiculous then and it's ridiculous now. It's worth remembering that, just as it's worth remembering that after the uprising many of those who count in Egyptian politics today were very happy to be negotiating with Omar Suleiman, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. If I remember correctly, the only prominent person who refused to was Mohamed ElBaradei.

Towards a second revolution?

Activists' efforts towards organizing a "second revolution" on the anniversary of the 25 January uprising are underway. The above video, titled "The confessions of Omar Suleiman", is the latest attempt to create a viral campaign. Below is the full press release about it, but do watch it.

Cairo, Egypt, January 3rd 2012

A video compiling the works and testimonies of numbers of activists has been released on January 1st 2012 on Youtube. It calls for a second revolution on January 25th 2012, and has gone viral.

Reception of the video

- The video encountered an instantaneous viral success, especially on Facebook (45,000 shares in the last 48 hours), on Twitter and blogs.

- It was reviewed and posted the day of its release by 3 national newspapers El Wafd, El Badil and Al Youm el 7.

- Youtube stats indicate it has been viewed over 100,000 times to this date.

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Le Monde releases cables on US-Egypt relations, Egyptian military, and Gamal

Le Monde — and as far as I can tell, only Le Monde — has published two articles on the Egyptian military based on Wikileaks cable that have not yet been released, even on the French newspaper's site.

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne est "en déclin" mais reste "puissante" - LeMonde.fr

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne ne veut pas que le fils succède au père - LeMonde.fr

Here is a short summary of key points raised in the cables for those who don't read French, plus some context not in the articles: 

  • US sees Egyptian military as "in decline" and a difficult ally. "The generals long were our best allies but the situation has changed," a cable from August 2007 notes. This is shortly before the US Congress decides to withhold $100 million in military aid. Nonetheless they remain guarantors of regime stability.
  • US sees Egyptian military as unwilling to adopt strategic reforms, instead concentrating on acquisition of hardware. US would like to see the Egyptian military more engaged in regional counter-terrorism operations, but it is refusing to do so.
  • Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is seen as the chief obstacle to US ideas for strategic reform, but is trusted by Mubarak. "Since his nomination, the extent of tactical and operational preparedness has been degraded. But Mubarak has confidence in him and he could still remain in place for years." 
  • Army is major economic player with interests in water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotels and gas stations, as well as a major land owner in the Nile Delta in on the Red Sea coast. (Sept. 2008)
  • Obama Deputy Defense Sec Colin Khal met with three retired generals with high-level positions in the Egyptian Ministry of Defense — Mohamed Al-Assar, Ahmed Moataz and Fouad Arafa — on 31 January 2010. They told him that US military aid to Egypt was part of the Camp David accords and therefore not up for negotiation, and that the accords had been breached by allowing the ratio between military aid to Israel and military aid to Egypt to go from the agreed 3:2 to 5:2. US military aid is considered "untouchable". (This is probably still reaction to the 2007-2008 attempts to cut military aid by Congress, which were blocked by Condoleeza Rice.)
  • In May 2007, then US Ambassador in Egypt Francis Ricciardone calls Egypt a "dictatorship" (Le Monde says he is the only one who dares do so) and says that the NDP is ready to run a campaign that would install Gamal Mubarak as president.
  • Ricciardone says that Omar Suleiman had hopes "until a few years ago" of being nominated vice-president. He also adds that Suleiman "hates the idea of Gamal being president."
  • Ricciardone writes that, in the case of Mubarak's death before he can install Gamal, a military coup is possible.
  • Gamal promised US the end of the Emergency Law in 2006 (it is still ongoing.) It's also casually mentioned that Egyptian security services employ 1.4 million people.
  • Gamal told US that opening presidential elections to a wider range of candidates (presumably by making independent candidacies easier) would be "a recipe for chaos."

Note that I am re-translating from the French, and that I have not seen the complete cables — let me know if you have seen them online elsewhere.

Update: The relevant cables are now out on Wikileaks' site.

 

Links for Dec.21.09 to Dec.23.09

Middle East Online | The End of Brotherly Love? | Tarek Kahlaoui on the Egyptian MB. * The Israel Lobby and the Prospects for Middle East Peace « P U L S E | Lectures by Stephen Walt. * Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine | Investigation by Washigton Report. * Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent | World news | The Guardian | Unbelievable. * Israel gives response to Hamas prisoner swap offer | "Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exile." * Jimmy Carter to U.S. Jews: Forgive me for stigmatizing Israel - Haaretz - Israel News | WTF? * The Fascination of Israel – Forward.com | Review of three books on Israel. * «Il y a 40.000 Chinois en Algérie» | 40,000 Chinese in Algeria, 2000 Algerians in China. * Meedan | Moroccan and Jordanian forces join Saudi offensive against Houthis. | Handle with care, chief source appears to be Spanish press. * In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ – Forward.com | Israel ambassador ramps up the attack on new lobby. * IRIN Middle East | EGYPT-ISRAEL: Perilous journey to the promised land | Middle East | Egypt Israel | Migration Refugees/IDPs | Feature | On sub-Saharan migration to Israel via Egypt. * Palestinians shoot at Egypt | Response to the collapsing of tunnels that have claimed many Palestinian lives? * Egypt's ailing cotton industry needs shake-up | Reuters | Industry risks a "slow death." * Middle East Report Online: Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini | On the Green Movement and gender issues. * Egypt rebukes Hamas over 'foot-dragging' in Palestinian reconciliation - Israel News, Ynetnews | Omar Suleiman:
Suleiman said Egypt had promised Hamas it would address the terror group's reservations vis-à-vis the reconciliation deal "after they sign and begin to implement it." He said Hamas' concerns "lacked substance," adding that the agreement would not be revised. "If it will (be changed), I'll resign," said Suleiman.
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Links for 08.18.09 to 08.19.09

THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILL - New York Post | Funny story about a weird CIA operation to buy Russian choppers for use in Afghanistan, corruption, etc. ✪ Some of Obama's Actions Linked to Anti-Semitism - Special Report w/ Bret Baier - FOXNews.com | Israeli minister says Obama is anti-Semite. Does the word "anti-Semite" mean anything anymore? ✪ EGYPT: Union Eyes the Silver Bullet - IPS ipsnews.net | A nice detailed story on the property tax collectors by Cam McGrath, interviewing our own Hossam. ✪ Egypt's Next Strongman | Foreign Policy | My piece on Omar Suleiman. ✪ Mubarak on the Potomac | The Cable | Laura Rozen wonders whether the timing of the Mubarak visit, during a dead time in DC, isn't convenient to both sides who don't want a public airing out of democracy and governance issues -- for the Egyptians it lowers the profile, for Obama it avoids scrutiny on rights.
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On Omar Suleiman

Picture 1.png I have a piece on Omar Suleiman up at Foreign Policy, in which I examine the case for Egypt's chief of intelligence succeeding Hosni Mubarak. I thought the focus in most reporting tended to stress Gamal, and wanted to balance things out by imagining how a Suleiman takeover might look like. Although the headline (not mine) may seem like it's an endorsement, the idea is more to reflect on the current "Gamal vs. Omar" debate and how bloody depressing it all is. I conclude:
Lost in this Egyptian Kremlinology is the fact that neither Gamal Mubarak nor Omar Suleiman presents a clear departure from the present state of affairs. Neither offers the new social contract that so many of Egypt's 80 million citizens are demanding in strikes and protests. The prevalence of the Gamal vs. Omar debate, more than anything, highlights the low expectations ordinary Egyptians have for a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak's 28-year reign. Those low expectations come with their own quiet tyranny, too.
Feedback welcomed!
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عمر سليمان

عمر سليمان
Blog dedicated to advocating Omar Suleiman as Egypt's next president - today's front page story in al-Dustour. Its slogan: "no to the Brothers, no to Gamal". I think this representative of a fairly large constituency in Egypt, but you have to wonder: Mubarak-haters are unhappy with his son, understandably, but why then go with his right-hand man? The other thing you have to wonder - who's behind the blog? Is this a test balloon by the Omar Suleiman people as we approach succession? The game is on, people, the game is on.
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