It's déjà vu all over again: On April 6, Omar Suleiman, ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's longtime spymaster and domestic enforcer, announced that he would "bow to popular will" and throw his hat in the ring for the presidency. Suleiman's declaration caused a political earthquake in Cairo -- for the first time, a candidate seemed to hold the prospect of reversing the February 2011 revolution that overthrew Mubarak, though not necessarily his regime.
Suleiman, a career military man who was described as Mubarak's "consigliere" in a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, has already tried to position himself as an alternative to the resurgent Muslim Brotherhood. In an interview published April 9, he claimed to have received death threats from members of the formerly banned group, and rejected suggestions that he was a member of the ancien régime. "If I was intelligence chief and then vice president for a few days, that doesn't mean I was part of a regime against which the people mounted a revolt," he said.
So who is Omar Suleiman? He was born into extreme poverty in the city of Qena, in Upper Egypt, and rose to prominence through the ranks of the military. According to Steven Cook's The Struggle for Egypt, he received advanced training at Moscow's Frunze Military Academy, and then the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1993, he was appointed the head of Egypt's General Intelligence Directorate, a hybrid agency responsible for squelching both domestic and international threats, and was Mubarak's right-hand man until the revolution last year. In a desperate bid to assuage popular anger, Mubarak appointed Suleiman as his vice president in late January, tasking him with formulating the government's response to the burgeoning protest movement.
With Suleiman back in the public spotlight, here is a look at the highlights of his long career.
Torture: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer described Suleiman as "the C.I.A.'s point man in Egypt for renditions," the program where the U.S. intelligence agency snatched terror suspects from around the world and sent them to Egypt for often brutal interrogations. In her book The Dark Side, Mayer quotes then U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker as saying that Suleiman understood the downsides of "some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way."
"[Egypt's] record both on human rights and on repressing democracy was lambasted annually by both Congress and by the State Department," wrote Stephen Grey in Ghost Plane, a book on the CIA rendition program. "But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman, the country's most powerful spy and secret policeman, did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do themselves."