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Omar Comin’?

Currently disqualified, former Mubarak VP aims for Egyptian presidency

Marc Tracy
April 17, 2012
Omar Suleiman in an extremely rare public appearance earlier this month.(Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images)
Omar Suleiman in an extremely rare public appearance earlier this month.(Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images)

There was a time when Omar Suleiman’s succession of President Hosni Mubarak was practically pre-ordained. The longtime head of military intelligence (better known as the Mukhabarat), Suleiman was Mubarak’s right-hand man, charged with Egypt’s most vital, delicate tasks—keeping the domestic Islamists at bay and keeping the peace with Israel—who was respected by the military even more than Mubarak and, unlike the former president, was not widely seen as corrupt. It was Suleiman whom Mubarak desperately appointed his first-ever vice president during his last desperate days; it was Suleiman who announced Mubarak’s abdication. But somewhere in the post-Tahrir Square turmoil, Suleiman must have been muscled out, for the de facto head of the military government that has ruled for the past year is Suleiman’s rival, Field Marshal Tantawi. One basically hadn’t heard Suleiman’s name … until last week, when he emerged as a contender for next month’s presidential elections. As of a few days ago, his chief-of-staff was running his campaign out of Mukhabarat headquarters. His message to Egyptians? I will restore needed stability. (You might also expect him to begin touting the fact that he essentially sold Mubarak out during his old boss’s trial.) Stablility is also his selling-point to the world.

He was one of the three high-profile candidates, along with the Muslim Brotherhood’s standard-bearer, Khairat el-Shater, who was surprisingly banned over the weekend; he did not get the requisite signatures from some province or some such. He has some time to appeal the decision. Personally, I’m betting on him getting his candidacy back.

Fun, relevant fact: prior to the January 25 uprising, all but a small handful of Getty’s images of Suleiman pertain to Israel or the peace process. He is pictured repeatedly with Prime Ministers Netanyahu, Barak, and Sharon; Presidents Abbas and Peres; Defense Minister Mofaz; opposition leaders Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz; and Chairman Arafat. He is in the same frame as Mubarak exactly once. Essentially, this guy operated behind-the-scenes, except where the peace process was concerned. On Sunday, Suleiman publicly warned that a Muslim Brotherhood president would lead to war with Israel, and that that would be a bad thing—not necessarily the consensus position in Egypt.

So what’s really going on here? Keen observer Steven A. Cook (who weighed in on Shater’s candidacy) floats some theories. It certainly seems more than coincidental that Suleiman entered the race soon after Shater did—that is, soon after the Brotherhood, the largest party in the Parliament, broke its prior vow not to run a presidential candidate (it now says it will run an eligible back-up should Shater remain disqualified). The question seems to be whether Suleiman is in it for the Mukhabarat, the military government itself, or just because he’s an earnest citizen who, gee-whiz, thinks he has something to contribute.

Either way, in case you don’t remember it from the heady days of January 2011, here is my primer on the differences between Omars Suleiman and Little.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.