By Richard Smallteacher, Wikileaks staff 1 February 2011
New cables released by Wikileaks reveal that the U.S. government has been quietly anticipating as well as cultivating Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian spy chief, as the top candidate to take over the country should anything happen to President Hosni Mubarak. On Saturday, this expectation was proved correct when Mubarak named Suleiman to the post of vice-president making him the first in line to assume power.
An intelligence official who trained at the U.S. Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, Suleiman became head of the spy agency in 1993 which brought him into close contact with the Central Intelligence Agency. Recently he took up a more public role as chief Egyptian interlocuter with Israel to discuss the peace process with Hamas and Fatah, the rival Palestinian factions.
In recent years most political analysts have assumed that the heir apparent was Gamal Mubarak, the president’s younger son, but the U.S. embassy in Cairo came to a different conclusion more than five years ago. On 15 June 2005, a memo (05CAIRO4534) written for Timothy Pounds, the director for Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and North Africa at U.S. National Security Council, noted: “(A)ll agreed that the most likely candidate to be appointed to the post (of vice-president) was General Omar Soliman, Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS).” (State department officials use a different spelling of Suleiman’s name)
Almost a year later, another diplomatic memo (06CAIRO2933) written on 14 May 2006 made it clear that the U.S. government was working closely with Suleiman on key regional matters such as figuring out how best to marginalize Hamas in Palestine: “(O)ur intelligence collaboration with Omar Soliman, who is expected in Washington next week, is now probably the most successful element of the relationship.”
The diplomatic memo, which was written by Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr. (the U.S. ambassador to Egypt) to brief Robert Zoellick (then Deputy Secretary of State) who was visiting Cairo at the time, notes that “Omar Soliman also told us he would be glad to see you (Zoellick), if schedules permit - he will be working the Israeli and PA delegations in Sharm” – referring to a meeting being held in the Egytian resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh.
Inanother diplomatic cable, Suleiman is reported to have told the U.S. ambassador, “Egypt is America’s partner” noting that “Egypt will continue to provide the USG (U.S. government) with its knowledge and expertise on the critical regional issues, such as Lebanon and Iraq. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the core issue.”
The following year the ambassador sent yet another memo (07CAIRO1417) to Washington in which he described Egypt as a “dictatorship” suffering from “paranoia” noting that political analysts were hard pressed to predict the future.
“Presidential succession is the elephant in the room of Egyptian politics,” Ricciardone wrote. Discounting the possibility of Mubarak being succeeded by his younger son because of Gamal’s failure to complete his military service, the ambassador once again pointed to Suleiman as the most likely successor as a "rock-solid" loyalist to Mubarak.
“(I)n the past two years, Soliman has stepped out of the shadows, and allowed himself to be photographed, and his meetings with foreign leaders reported. Many of our contacts believe that Soliman, because of his military background, would at the least have to figure in any succession scenario for Gamal, possibly as a transitional figure,” Ricciardone wrote.
The memo notes however that “an alleged personal friend of Soliman tells us that Soliman "detests" the idea of Gamal as president.”
One of the reasons that Washington has been keen to support Soliman is his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. A blog posting on Al Jazeera’s website by Clayton Swisher, former director of programs at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, sums up a 2005 meeting with Suleiman: “(H)is blunt words made me drop my biscuit. Suffice it to say he does not have a high opinion of Islam in politics, and is not shy about telling Western audiences the lengths he will go to allow his security services to keep the Muslim Brotherhood and their offshoots at bay.”
Swisher concludes: “President Mubarak’s appointment of Suleiman is a way of messaging assurances to a wary state of Israel and US congress. But it also speaks the unspoken to Egypt’s Islamic parties: don’t even think about it … there is little doubt in my mind why Hamas viewed Suleiman a dishonest broker and an obstacle to real reconciliation. Of course, that is probably what Egypt intended by sending him.”