(Pictured: Egyptian President Mubarak and Vice President Suleiman.)
We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fortieth in the series.
It’s hardly news to even casual followers of recent events in Cairo that Omar Suleiman, the likely successor to Hosni Mubarak, isn’t exactly the fresh new face of Egyptian politics being demanded in Tahrir Square. Whether it be his unwillingness to lift the thirty-year state of emergency stifling Egyptian society or even push Mubarak off the political stage, when it comes to Suleiman’s politics, these positions are only the tip of the iceberg.
As Jane Mayer recounts in her expose of abuse committed in the name of fighting terror, The Dark Side, and quoted recently by Al Jazeera, Suleiman was the point person for American rendition efforts in its war on terror:
Each rendition was authorised at the very top levels of both governments [the US and Egypt] … The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top [CIA] officials. [Former US Ambassador to Egypt Edward] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as ‘very bright, very realistic,’ adding that he was cognisant that there was a downside to ‘some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.’
Technically, US law required the CIA to seek ‘assurances’ from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the EGIS, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer [head of the al-Qaeda desk], who helped set up the practise of rendition, later testified, even if such ‘assurances’ were written in indelible ink, ‘they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.’
And that’s not all. Not one afraid to get his hands dirty—or bloody, as the case may be—Suleiman reportedly engaged in torture practices himself. As UC Santa Barbara’s Lisa Hajjar reminds us, Egyptian-born Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib “was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman.”
It’s also important to remember that his is very likely behind the government’s thuggishly violent response to the recent demonstrations in Cairo and across the country.
Not that he cares, but the release of new embassy cables from WikiLeaks aren’t exactly doing wonders for Suleiman’s public profile.
Among other revelations sure to outrage anti-government protestors, one WikiLeaked document clearly demonstrates that Suleiman’s rise to power would be most welcome news in Jerusalem. The cable, dating from the summer of 2008 and written by diplomats in Tel Aviv, details Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s August visit to Egypt. While the Israeli delegation was “‘shocked’ by Mubarak’s aged appearance and slurred speech,” they were “full of praise for Soliman [sic] and noted that a ‘hot line'” between Barak and Suleiman had been established and was in “daily use.” The cable’s author notes in a parenthetical aside that the Israeli prediction that Suleiman would succeed Mubarak if the Egyptian dictator were to die or be otherwise capacitated reflected their comfort at the prospect.
Another cable sheds light, albeit briefly, into Suleiman’s political philosophy. In discussions with American officials late in 2007, the intelligence chief and his team expressed outrage that American foreign aid might be predicated on securing weapons-smuggling routes between Egypt and Hamas-controlled Gaza, labeling it a “hostile act.” Sensing no irony in his defense of Egypt against criticism that the Mubarak regime wasn’t doing enough to stem the flow of small arms into the occupied territories, Suleiman summed up his country’s delicate position between Israel and the Palestinians by noting that “Egypt wants Gaza to go ‘hungry’ but not ‘starve.’
From the looks of it, he’s been getting his way.