The List

Mubarak's Enforcer

Omar Suleiman is running for president of Egypt -- but are voters really looking to elect a member of the former regime's inner circle?

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."

Keeping Hamas down: The one constant thread through Suleiman's career is an abiding hostility toward Islamists, both domestic and foreign. For that reason, he was long one of the officials in Cairo who tried most aggressively to limit the growing power of Hamas in the neighboring Gaza Strip. In a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, Suleiman promised an Israeli interlocutor that he would prevent the 2006 Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative election, where the Islamist group was expected to make significant gains. "There will be no elections in January," Suleiman reportedly said. "We will take care of it."

He failed to do so, however, and Hamas captured a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Suleiman would later work to negotiate ceasefires between Israel and Hamas and attempt to reconcile Hamas with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, but his distrust of the organization remained unchanged. "I know these people," he said after Hamas's electoral victory. "They are the Muslim Brotherhood and they will not change. They are liars and the only thing they understand is force."

Following Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Suleiman cooperated with Israel-led efforts to prevent goods from entering the area as a way of weakening the Islamist party. Suleiman "told us Egypt wants Gaza to go ‘hungry' but not ‘starve'," reported a December 2007 WikiLeaked cable.

Mubarak's bodyguard: Suleiman's star began to rise in 1995 when he convinced Mubarak, despite objections from the Foreign Ministry, to take an armored limousine to an African Union summit in Ethiopia. Islamist militants ambushed the Egyptian motorcade shortly after he arrived in Ethiopia, raking the limousine with bullets, but Mubarak escaped unscathed due to Suleiman's precautions.

Since that episode, Suleiman's role as one of Mubarak's most trusted confidants on security matters grew steadily. "He tells Mubarak everything that's happening," a retired Egyptian general said. "After 22 years in power, the gerontocracy that surrounds the president tells him what they think he wants to hear. Suleiman tells Mubarak the way it is."

A direct line to Jerusalem: Shortly after Suleiman entered the race, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm released the first political salvo against him. The photo collage shows him gripping-and-grinning with some of Israel's most prominent leaders, and features a campaign poster touting his candidacy -- in Hebrew. It also didn't help that Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli member of the Knesset and former defense minister, endorsed Suleiman as "good for Israel."

Indeed, it's no secret that Suleiman was long Israel's most trusted point of contact with the Mubarak regime. An Israeli official told the Washington Post that Suleiman enjoyed a good working relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that the two leaders shared a concern about Iran's growing influence. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who was Suleiman's counterpart in Israel for years, also predicted in November 2011 that Omar Suleiman would be Egypt's next president.

Whenever there was a crisis involving Hamas, Suleiman stepped in to broker a solution. As part of his attempts to negotiate ceasefires in Gaza, the spymaster worked to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit -- though it was only after the Mubarak regime had been toppled that the two sides agreed to a prisoner swap. A 2007 WikiLeaked cable also suggests that the Egyptian leadership was pushing for more, not less, Israeli intervention in Gaza -- even inviting the Israelis to re-establish their presence in the Philadelphi corridor, a nine-mile buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt. "In their moments of greatest frustration, [Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF would be ‘welcome' to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling," the cable reported.


The List

The New Crossroads of History

Ten things you didn't know about Turkey.

No walls fell in Turkey at the end of the Cold War; there was no color-coded revolution. Yet, arguably, the country is in the throes of a transformation as profound as those of its neighbors. A country that once served as a lonely sentinel on NATO's southern flank is now at the center of a new and evolving region. And a Turkish economy that for decades tried to shed the yoke of high interest rates and chronic inflation has, in the last two years, been the fastest-growing in Europe. In fact, Turkey's GDP growth in 2011 (8.5 percent) wasn't far behind China's. Turkey is now in the process of rewriting its constitution and wrestling with demons that include a legacy of military intervention and a long denial of Kurdish diversity.

While it deals with its past, Turkey must also focus on the future of a youthful country where half the population is under the age of 29. It is an accession candidate to the European Union yet a player in the rough-and-tumble Middle East. Understanding Turkey, though never a luxury, is now more than ever part and parcel of understanding the modern world.

Here are 10 clues to coming to terms with this rapidly changing country:

1. Turkey is nearly as urban as France.

An important part of Turkey's dynamism is its rapid rate of urbanization. Istanbul's historic skyline of domes and minarets has now been supplemented by new vistas of glass and steel. Istanbul -- a dynamic center for business and finance -- has doubled in size three times since  the post-War era, from 1.5 million people in 1955 to an estimated 12 million-plus today. It is a movement of people fueled by the search for better jobs, education, and health care -- what sociologists call "lateral social mobility." The rate of Istanbul's expansion slowed to a mere 1.7 percent in 2009, but that still represents an influx of more than 200,000 people every year. Turkey is now 70 percent urban. In France, one of Europe's most rural societies, that figure is 77 percent, which suggests that the population shifts in Turkey may not yet have run their course. This rapid process of urbanization is, in turn, one of the primary motors of social and political change.

2. Turkish political life is secular, but religion still has a role.

Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, which means "clean" or "white" party) is the latest in a succession of parties descended from an overtly Islamic movement founded in the 1960s. But the party has adopted a reformist agenda in an attempt to capture the political middle ground. The party's charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was once photographed sitting at the feet of the proto-Taliban Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But, then again, Ronald Reagan started political life as a Democrat. Erdogan underwent almost as profound a transformation to become the able mayor of Istanbul, a megacity larger than some European countries. The AKP describes itself as being socially conservative but rejects the notion that it is Islamic or Islamist -- even the term "Islamic democrat" rankles -- mindful of Turkish law that forbids the exploitation of religion for political ends.

Instead, the AKP has defined more openness about religion in public life as part of a larger struggle to make Turkey more fully democratic. At the same time, the party appears to be winking at its supporters and their conservative and religious inclinations. The body language of officials says, "Trust us, we're on your side" (a recent, hastily conceived education reform, for example, was designed to give a lease of life to Islamic parochial-style schools). This continues to prompt suspicion that the party has a hidden Islamic agenda. The party, however, has been in power for nearly a decade and has had ample chance to show its hand.

3. It's the economy, stupid -- in Turkey, too.

The rise of the AKP has less to do with Islam than with voters' disillusionment with other political parties. It was formed in 2001 and came to power the following year after two cataclysmic events. First, the devastating 1999 earthquake in the industrial west of the country, which killed at least 18,000 people, and shattered confidence in the post-World War II political machines that had overseen Turkey's urbanization. The military was also criticized for being slow to join in the rescue efforts. The second blow was an economic crisis in 2001 that cut the value of Turkey's currency in half. At one stage, overnight interest rates reached 7,000 percent on an annualized basis. In the 2002 election, as disillusionment with Turkey's old guard mounted, no political party that had been in the 1999 parliament managed to score enough votes to win seats in the new legislature. The AKP has done better in successive general elections (34 percent of the vote in 2002, 47 percent in 2007 and 50 percent in 2011), but under Turkey's complex system of proportional representation it has actually won fewer seats in parliament each time.

4. Atatürk liberated Turkish women (but forgot to tell the men).

When Turkish women read about laws and practices in other Muslim-majority nations that discriminate against their sex or punish their sexuality, they think kindly of the founding vision of the Turkish Republic. Every schoolgirl knows that the nation's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, freed Turkish women from the veil and polygamous marriage and replaced Quranic law and traditional custom with the European civil code. Men in white ties and women in backless frocks danced arm in arm across the floor in the Republic Day balls during the 1920s, a theatrical demonstration of the new access women enjoyed with respect to public and professional life. Women were given the franchise in 1930 and voted in municipal elections that year.

Many Turkish women, however, are beginning to wonder whether they were lured into declaring victory in a battle that has only just begun. Indeed, a 2011 World Economic Forum gender-gap study put Turkey well at the bottom of the international league of equality (122 out of 135, below Lebanon and Nigeria and just above Egypt and Iran). Turkey's poor performance in key measures of equality such as health, educational attainment, and representation in the workforce is all the more remarkable for being so totally at odds with the Turkish public's own perception. A raft of new legislation does give Turkish women equality and protection. But only a quarter of Turkish women are employed, and a recent study suggests some 42 percent of women over the age of 15 have suffered physical or sexual violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives.

5. Turkey has the biodiversity of a small continent.

Turkey occupies a landmass slightly larger than Texas, at just over 300,000 square miles, and is more than three times the size of the United Kingdom. In terms of the variety of terrain and particularly the diversity of its plant life, however, Turkey exhibits the characteristics of a small continent. There are, for example, some 10,000 plant species in the country (compared with some 13,000 in Europe) -- one in three of which is endemic to Turkey. Indeed, there are more species in Istanbul province (2,000) than in the whole of the United Kingdom. While many people know of Turkey's rich archaeological heritage, it possesses an equally valuable array of ecosystems -- peat bogs, heathlands, steppes, and coastal plains. Turkey possesses much forest (about a quarter of the land) but, as importantly, some half of the country is semi-natural landscape that has not been entirely remodeled by man.

At the same time, there is often a callous disregard in Turkey for this natural legacy. Many habitats are endangered by urbanization, mass tourism, and the government's mania to build a dam wherever its sees running water. Istanbul is under particular threat, due to large infrastructure projects such as a proposed car tunnel that would pump private vehicles into the historical peninsula and a third Bosphorus Bridge at the Black Sea end of the straits, which would lead to the urban development of the city's last remaining green belt.

6. Istanbul is the world's largest Kurdish city.

There are anywhere from 28 to 35 million Kurds inhabiting a region that straddles Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, with smaller populations elsewhere, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon. This geographic diversity suggests that Kurdish identity is shaped by a variety of competing forces, and that ethnic solidarity with fellow Kurds across borders is often overshadowed by the concerns and politics of the countries in which Kurds find themselves. In Turkey, Kurds form a majority in 15 provinces in the southeast and east of the country, with the metropolitan city of Diyarbakir serving as the unofficial capital of the Kurdish region. There is also a large diaspora both in Western Europe and in coastal Turkish cities such as Adana and Izmir. Istanbul, on the diametrically opposite side of the country from Diyarbakir, is almost certainly the largest Kurdish city in the world, similar to the way that New York City is home to the largest number of Jews in the United States.

For all its claims to be a melting pot of civilizations and a mosaic of different cultures, Turkey has been continuously blindsided by the problem of accommodating its own ethnic diversity. A principal reason lies in the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and the perceived need to impose a new national identity on a war-stricken nation. Kurds posed an obvious challenge, first because they formed a distinct and regionally concentrated linguistic group that was not Turkish and second because they were overwhelmingly Muslim and therefore not an anomalous "minority" -- as defined by the Treaty of Lausanne -- that could be afforded special rights.

7. Turkey's press operates with one hand tied behind its back.

The Turkish press is vibrant, varied, and vocal, and at the same time restricted. On one hand, Turks cannot claim to be badly informed. There are some 35 national newspaper titles, though total circulation remains low for a country of its size -- 4.5 million, or the equivalent of one London or New York tabloid. There are more than two dozen dedicated news channels, both terrestrial and cable. Rival cable and satellite platforms broadcast foreign news and special interest programs. Internet portals relay gossip, chat rooms hum, and many politicians, even the president (@cbabdullahgul), feel obliged to tweet.

At the same time, the Turkish media has proven a poor watchdog over its own freedoms, largely because of its unholy alliance with government. In too many cases, media ownership has been a "loss leader" -- purely a means to pursue non-press financial interests. The director of the state broadcasting authority is appointed by the cabinet, and officials are not above using the threat of tax audits to discipline media barons who still prove uncooperative. Freedom House, the Washington-based think tank that hands out grades to countries according to the state of their civil liberties and political rights, describes Turkey as "an ever-shifting dichotomy between democratic progress and resistance to reform." It awards it three points (worst score seven) and labels the country "partly free."

The Turkish government has recently been criticized for the large number (around 100 by some reckonings) of journalists in prison. Officials argue that these are people who have committed offenses and just happen to be journalists. While this may be technically accurate, many of the "offenses" have to do with freedom of expression, as many of those in pre-trial detention are Kurdish activists arrested for abetting terrorism. For the most part, the government does not have to use the courts to spin the press in its own direction.

8. Fifteen percent of senior Turkish military officers are now standing trial.

The Turkish armed forces take a broad view of their mission to defend the country, and have at times appeared to be less concerned with external threats than with an enemy within -- identified variously as political radicalism, reactionary religious forces, Kurdish separatism, and, on more than one occasion, the country's own elected government. Turkey has lived through three military interregnums (1960-1961, 1971-1973, and 1980-1983) as well as what the pundits called a "post-modern" coup in 1997 in which the military put pressure on a coalition government, causing it to collapse. The current government has largely tamed its officer class by means of a large conspiracy trial known popularly as the Ergenekon affair, after the reputed codeword for the underground network. Some 15 percent of senior officers are now standing trial for plotting to overthrow the AKP, and the leaders of a 1980 coup -- including the 94-year-old former president Kenan Evren -- are standing trial as well.

9. Not all Islam in Turkey is the same.

Religious education is compulsory in Turkey and instructors teach the principles of Sunni Islam. But this is not to everyone's liking. Turkey has an Alevi community that makes up at least 15 percent of the population and practices a variety of Shiite Islam. Many resent seeing their taxes go to support the establishment or a school system that teaches a variant of Islam that is very different from the one they practice at home. Unlike in Iran, where Shiism has reinforced a theocratic orthodoxy, Alevis have been part of a culture of dissent in Turkey. Their faith incorporates elements of mysticism and folk religion, and, in some cases, exhibits an indifference to many of the practices associated with mainstream Islam -- including obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan and even the pilgrimage to Mecca. Alevis are sometimes regarded as the front line in the defense of Turkish secularism inasmuch as they are treated with condescension or at best overlooked by the conservative mainstream. By the same token, many Alevis support the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Turkish Alevis may be very different from Syrian Alawites, but their presence still complicates regional loyalties. Turkey is often depicted as belonging to a Sunni alliance that courts Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria.

10. Turkey's quest to be European dates back to the 1950s.

Although commentators sometimes speak of EU "enlargement fatigue," in the Turkish case "narcolepsy" might be more appropriate. Ankara applied for associate membership in what was popularly called the Common Market in 1959 and signed the Ankara Agreement, which envisaged eventual Turkish membership, in 1963. In 1996, Turkey entered into a Customs Union on manufactured goods that essentially gave European manufactures the same unfettered access in Turkey that Turkey already enjoyed in Europe. In 2005, Turkey finally sat down at the negotiating table with EU officials. But those talks have dragged on, with no end in sight.

As long as Turkey is not a full EU member, it remains outside decision-making councils -- even those affecting the Customs Union. Ankara, for example, must implement an EU tariff regime over which it has no say, which means that its trade with countries ranging from Brazil to China is regulated in Brussels.

Turkey is already Europe's fifth-largest export destination. Those in favor of Turkish entry into the EU are eager to stress the win-win of incorporating a fertile market for goods and financial services that is also contiguous with Europe's boundaries. Istanbul alone has a GDP greater than that of Hungary or the Czech Republic, or indeed any of the post-2004 members of the EU save Poland.


As the Arab Spring settles into a long season of attrition, the Turkish example of a Muslim-majority nation engaged in a process of self-generating reform has acquired new potency. The Turkish economy continues to thrive on growing consumer demand, and the government is pledging to rid the country of its illiberal past by lifting the hand of the military and providing the country with a new constitution.

Yet, having conquered the bastions of the old establishment, the AKP now faces temptations of its own. Like Frodo Baggins, it knows it has to throw the ring of power back into the fire. But, for the moment, it feels comfortable keeping the ring on its own finger. Whether Turkey develops institutions that are worthy of its new status will decide the country's future.

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