Middle East

Egypt candidate: Former spy chief Omar Suleiman

Omar Suleiman (6 February 2011)
Image caption Omar Suleiman: Would his presidency bring stability or further turmoil to Egypt?

Egyptian presidential candidate Omar Suleiman is closely associated with the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.

He became the country's vice-president in 30 years on 29 January 2011, four days after the popular uprising against Mr Mubarak began.

Two weeks later, it was Gen Suleiman who appeared on state television to announce the long-time president had stepped down.

For the previous 18 years, Gen Suleiman had been head of Egypt's intelligence services, where he gained an international reputation as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

He also tried to secure the release of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was eventually freed by militants in Gaza in October in return for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Since Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel in 1979, its Western allies saw its involvement in such negotiations as key to its strategic regional importance.

Gen Suleiman was a frequent visitor to the United States.

Trusted associate

Born in 1935 in Qena in Upper Egypt, Gen Suleiman, joined the army in 1954 and received advanced training at the Frunze Military Academy in the former Soviet Union. He also gained a master's degree in political science at Cairo University.

Afterwards he moved quickly through the ranks of government intelligence. In 1991, he became director of Military Intelligence and two years later, he was named director of the General Intelligence Department.

His long military career - serving in the 1962 Yemen conflict and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 - gave him widespread support in the armed services, the most powerful institution in Egypt.

However, he also proved to be a trusted associate of Hosni Mubarak. In 1995, his quick-witted advice may have saved the Egyptian leader's life during an assassination attempt on his motorcade in Ethiopia.

Although he showed little political ambition, Gen Suleiman was often mentioned as a possible successor for President Mubarak who would continue a trend of military strongmen who have led Egypt since the 1952 revolution.

Image caption Omar Suleiman's presidential bid is likely to have the backing of the ruling military council

In 2010, posters supporting the general mysteriously appeared in central Cairo, only to be swiftly taken down.

Some observers say Gen Suleiman may well turn out to be a popular candidate in the 2012 presidential election for a large swathe of the electorate who are seeking law and order after more than a year of turmoil. He easily collected the 30,000 signatures needed for his nomination.

However, his bid is likely to be seen as having the backing of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) - and that may be be unpopular with both the young revolutionaries calling for greater reforms and Islamists who suffered at the hands of the former regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Khairat al-Shater, called the announcement that Gen Suleiman would stand for the presidency "an insult" to the Egyptian people, and warned of a return to turmoil if the former spy chief won the election.

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