Egypt crisis: What role will Omar Suleiman play?
Egypt's Vice President Omar Suleiman, who addressed Egyptians after the televised speech of President Hosni Mubarak Thursday, urged Tahrir Square protesters to 'go home.' It is unclear how much power Suleiman now wields.
(Page 2 of 3)
Pressed as to whether Mubarak now had no powers, Mr. Shoukry said: "That is an interpretation you can make."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Lang says there is no reason not to take the ambassador's statements at face value. "In the dim murky world of Egypt’s culture and politics, what is sought here is a way for Mubarak to save face," he says. But, he adds, Mubarak has "thrown down the challenge to what is now a revolutionary movement."
Analysts say that Mubarak apparently has the backing of the popular Army and the respected Suleiman, whose Jan. 29 appointment as vice president was seen as a first step toward the end of Mubarak's rule. Now, that transition is in doubt, with Suleiman adding in a speech following Mubarak's that the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square should "go home."
“I call upon the young people, the heroes of Egypt: Go back to your houses, go back to your work,” said Suleiman in a short televised address. “The homeland needs your work.”
With those words, many hopes died that Suleiman might lead the country into elections.
"This negates whatever impact [Sulieman] might have had," says Mr. Lang, adding that this in itself is a loss for Egypt.
Who is Suleiman?
Born to a humble family in Qena on July 2, 1936, Suleiman attended Egypt’s military academy, trained in the former Soviet Union, and studied political science at Cairo University and at Ain Shams University in Cairo. Before being appointed vice president, Suleiman had long held the posts of chief of the General Intelligence Service, director of military intelligence, and deputy head of military intelligence.
In 1995, Suleiman famously insisted that Mubarak's armored limousine be flown with them for a conference in Ethiopia, likely saving the president's life when their vehicle came under gunfire during an assassination attempt. Foreign Policy magazine in 2009 proclaimed him the most powerful spy in the Middle East.
"This is a guy that Mubarak took up on the basis of his supreme competence," says Lang, who first met Suleiman in 1987 while working as the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and has maintained ties with him. He recalls their first meeting in Cairo, seated opposite one another at a palace conference and dining together every night.
"He is a very humorous guy. A dry, witty sort of person," says Lang. He describes Suleiman as considerate, willing to listen to subordinates, and the most capable man in the current government.
A man for all seasons
Over the years, the stress of working under President Mubarak has taken its toll.
"Working for Hosni Mubarak is the kind of job where you sit at a desk waiting for the red phone to ring," Lang says, noting that even Suleiman fears the president. “Off with your head is not an exaggeration,” he adds.