Suleiman may please military, not public

The story goes that Omar Suleiman rose to favor when he saved President Hosni Mubarak's life in 1995 by demanding the president ride in an armored car in Ethiopia.
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Updated on Jan 31, 2011 01:11 AM IST
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None | ByMichael Slackman, Cairo

The story goes that Omar Suleiman rose to favor when he saved President Hosni Mubarak's life in 1995 by demanding the president ride in an armored car in Ethiopia. A gunman opened fire on the vehicle, and still Mr. Mubarak escaped unharmed.

This time, however, Suleiman may not be able to save the president. On Saturday, Suleiman was named vice president of Egypt - and the clear successor to the top job - after years as Egypt's foreign intelligence chief and Egypt's lead liaison with the Palestinians. With the streets filled with protesters for a fifth day, and the death toll rising across the country, President Mubarak turned to a longtime friend, confidant and close ally of Washington to be his second in command.

"The president is choosing a man he can trust while he is on shaky ground," said Mahmoud Shokry, a former ambassador to Syria and personal friend of Suleiman. "There is no doubt that the president doesn't know what will happen tomorrow."

But Suleiman, a former general, is also the establishment's candidate, not the public's. His appointment, and his elevation, if it were to occur, would represent not the democratic change called for on the street, but most likely a continuation of the kind of military-backed, authoritarian leadership that Mr. Mubarak has led for nearly 30 years, experts said.

"I think basically this is a way of paving the way for a military-led regime in a so-called constitutional context," said Ragui Assaad, a professor at the University of Minnesota. "It is clearly the result of negotiations with the army."

Suleiman has run Egypt's General Intelligence Service since 1993, taking over as the nation was battling Islamic extremists. He is 74 years old and, like Mr. Mubarak, fought in two wars with Israel.

He is said to hold a similar worldview, deeply distrusting Iran, favoring close relations with Washington, supporting the cold peace with Israel, and against easing up on the Muslim Brotherhood, the principal opposition group in Egypt.

He has managed most of Egypt's hottest issues, including dealing with Hamas, Hezbollah and Sudan.

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