Loyal to the end
reports on the mixed reaction to news of the death of Omar Suleiman
Click to view caption|
Suleiman's military funeral; on 11 February 2011 it was Suleiman who announced Mubarak's removal from power
"For sure he was not assassinated or given bad medicine or anything of the sort," said an official source answering questions from Al-Ahram Weekly on the growing controversy surrounding the death of Omar Suleiman, ousted president Hosni Mubarak's long-time head of General Intelligence.
Suleiman, sworn in as vice president during Mubarak's last days in office, died in the US on Thursday after arriving on Monday for medical checkups.
"He has been unwell of late. He has suffered breathing problems and was getting very frail," said the source. "If there was any question about the circumstances surrounding the death of General Omar Suleiman his family and the government of Egypt would have taken action. We really have no doubts."
The same source said that claims made by some suggesting that Suleiman was killed indicate an attempt by some to get media attention.
The 76-year old was buried in Egypt following a military funeral attended by chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his deputy, Sami Anan.
President Mohamed Mursi, advised by his protocol aides to make an appearance at the funeral, declined to attend. He delegated a presidential official to represent him. The envoy was insulted by some those attending the funeral.
Suleiman's last public appearance was when he arrived at the Presidential Elections Commission(PEC) escorted by military police, to present his presidential nomination papers. The scene prompted speculation over SCAF support for the former vice president in which SCAF immediately and publicly disassociated itself from Suleiman and said that his reception at the gates of the PEC should not be interpreted as a sign of support.
Suleiman's nomination was eventually declared null on procedural grounds, but only after demonstrators had taken to Tahrir Square to protest against the candidacy of a man who had served as Mubarak's right arm for years and who had been responsible in the eyes of many Islamists for a good part of the policies that applied a harsh and strictly security based approach against all factions of political Islam in Egypt.
Suleiman will probably be best remembered by the public as the recently appointed vice president who, on 11 February 2011, announced that Mubarak was stepping down. He will go down in history, however, as the first Egyptian intelligence chief to emerge from the shadows into the limelight.
Suleiman was heavily involved in running the most crucial elements of Egypt's foreign policy during the last 10 years of Mubarak's rule.
"During that time it was an open secret that the intelligence service was the effective decision-maker on matters relating to Israel, Sudan, Iran and other national security files. Intelligence was always a partner but Mubarak wanted to delegate heavy responsibilities to the man he trusted most -- Suleiman," said an Egyptian diplomat.
In the eyes of this diplomat and others who worked with Suleiman and his team Mubarak's former chief spy was "very patriotic".
Indeed "patriotic" was the word Suleiman's colleagues, whether excommunicated from the regime like Amr Moussa, or who remained till the bitter end like Suleiman Awwad, Mubarak's last spokesman, used to pay tribute to the deceased general.
"He was patriotic in the sense that he saw Egypt's main interest was to avoid being dragged into a confrontation, political or otherwise, with Israel, to keep good ties with the US and stand up to political Islam. Those were the goals he worked for, because he thought they were in the nation's best interests," said one of his former aides.
Suleiman is also credited by some of his closest aides for daring to tell Mubarak that his younger son Gamal was far too unpopular to succeed to the presidency. It is a claim that is disputed.
"Months before the revolution, when a member of SCAF said in a meeting that someone should have the courage to tell Mubarak that he needs to get his son out of the picture, the man was basically placed under house arrest. Suleiman would not have done such a thing -- never," said a retired presidential source.
Unlike SCAF, which eventually sided with the revolution, publicly at least, Suleiman remained with Mubarak until the end.
"It is not true at all that Suleiman convinced Mubarak to step down out of recognition of the legitimate demands of the 25 January Revolution," said the retired presidential source. Suleiman told the president he better retire when he saw that SCAF was siding with the revolution and that the demonstrators had no intention of giving up.
Today, some of Suleiman's associates claim he was loath to see Mubarak step down because he saw that it would inevitably lead to the rise of Islamists.
"Egypt is now run by the Muslim Brotherhood, not by an elected civil president as some like to believe. General Omar Suleiman predicted this, and the SCAF leadership," said one of Suleiman's associates.
Suleiman's mantra upon his nomination was that he was running to quell the Islamists' attempt to hijack Egypt. His position was supported by a large audience of people who feared control by the Muslim Brotherhood, or when Suleiman was nominated, the Salafis as represented by Hazem Abu Ismail who was also scratched from the presidential race.
For many Islamists, Suleiman provokes the same kind of nightmarish memories as Habib El-Adli, Mubarak's interior minister from 1997 and the architect of state clampdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood and other exponents of political Islam. Nor is this hostility confined to Egypt. For Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon and jihadi groups in Pakistan, Suleiman's was a name to be feared.
Suleiman had left Egypt for the United Arab Emirates months before he travelled to the US for medical treatment. News of his death led many commentators to lament that with Suleiman's passing many of the secrets of Mubarak's long rule to which he was party have also gone to the grave.
Suleiman was married and had three daughters. He graduated from the military academy and fought against Israel. He headed the Military Intelligence before he was moved to chair the General Intelligence.