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Omar Suleiman, Mubarak intel chief, dies as quietly as he worked

Longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, also former leader Hosni Mubarak's right-hand man and a key US partner in the War on Terror, died in a US hospital today.

By Correspondent / July 19, 2012

In this file photo, Egyptian chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman is seen upon his departure after a short visit to Khartoum, Sudan. Egypt’s state news agency says the former spy chief and vice president has died in the US.

Nasser Nasser/AP/File

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Cairo

Omar Suleiman, the longtime intelligence chief under ousted president Hosni Mubarak who was also a friend and partner of the US, died in a US hospital early today, according to state media. 

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Although Mr. Suleiman was Mubarak’s right-hand man and oversaw the torture of detainees in his nearly two decades as head of the General Intelligence Directorate, he was never arrested or charged with a crime after the uprising that ousted Mubarak, a testament to the power structure that endured even after Mubarak was toppled. Instead, he ran for president, provoking fears of a return of Mubarak’s regime before he was disqualified from the race.

Some Egyptians expressed satisfaction at Suleiman’s death, though they rued the fact that he was never punished for his crimes, while his band of loyal supporters mourned his passing. His death comes as Egypt’s new president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization that Suleiman worked to suppress, welcomed to Cairo a leader of Hamas, the Brotherhood's Palestinian affiliate that Suleiman tried to undermine.  

Omar Ashour, professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter, says Suleiman was a divisive figure.

"For prodemocracy activists ... many of them think he was the brain behind the Mubarak regime's survival. To make this regime survive he became a brutal murderer and torturer," says Dr. Ashour, who is currently in Cairo. "For pro-Mubarak folks, he's seen as a force of stability and a hurdle to Islamist advance." For many, "he is the guy who tried to revive the Mubarak regime."

Suleiman leaves a legacy in Egypt's intelligence agencies of focusing them on domestic matters, rather than external threats, says Ashour. "I think his most important impact on the Egyptian Intelligence is his change of [the organization's] creed; change of dogma to perceive that the Islamists are the most critical threat, not any other entity, whether Israel or the Mossad."

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