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The rise and fall of Omar Suleiman

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The rise and fall of Omar Suleiman
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“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic and asked the Supreme Council of the armed forces to run the country. God is our helper”

These were the words of Omar Suleiman, who announced that February 11, 2011 would mark the end of the regime he served for 30 years.

This definitive event in Egypt’s history was precipitated by the demonstrators of Egypt’s 17 day revolution, which also left hundreds dead.

His loyalty and dedication took him all the way till the end of January 2011, when he was controversially named vice-president by Mubarak, at the expense of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was widely tipped to take over.

Suleiman’s goal was to restore peace and initiate the reforms demanded by the crowd. But this was undermined by his closeness to the president and his new appointment did not have the desired effect.

For years to come, Suleiman will be the man in the shadows, the dark cloud of the regime. Born in 1936, he commenced his career in the army before becoming intelligence chief in 1993.

In 1995, he saved the life of Mubarak, advising him to travel in an armoured car while travelling in Ethiopia for a pan-African summit. The car was attacked by an Islamist group. Several agents were killed but the president was unharmed. After that, Suleiman became his most trusted aide.

In the summer of 1997, he requested enhanced surveillance of tourist sites. The interior minister didn’t comply and in October, an attack in Luxor claimed 62 lives. Suleiman was once more vindicated.

He then became Mubarak’s political adviser, the only one with free rein to voice his thoughts. After the second intifada he was handed control of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He would earn plaudits as a mediator and negotiator. For years he negotiated truces between different sides, seeking to build bridges and even trying to reconcile the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah parties.

However, the man in the shadows retained a dark side. He likely played an important role in torture cases. Suspected of being an agent of the CIA, with whom he was close, he was also accused of torturing suspected Islamic terrorists.

The Islamists were long the bane of Suleiman, and his stance against them earned him praise from Israel. In the 1990s, he led a ruthless war against the Muslim Brotherhood and the jihadists. He would stand for election in April 2012 but never secured the required 30,000 signatures.