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February 10, 2011

Egypt's Omar Suleiman - new hope or more of the same?

Susan Howard-Azzeh

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Yesterday's new demand for Egypt's pro-democracy revolution was "Suleiman, Suleiman, Mesh A'yzeenik Inta Caman - Sumeiman we do not want you too."

Who is Omar Suleiman?

On January 29, 2011 Hosni Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman as his Vice President, the first vice president in Mubarak’s 30 year regime.

Will Omar Suleiman be the saviour of Egypt? Will he be the next president? Can Egyptians count on him to usher in democracy? Both the United States and Israel see Suleiman as their preferred candidate to replace Mubarak. That in itself makes him suspect.

From 1993 until this January, Suleiman was the Chief of Egypt’s Military General Intelligence Service.

For years he has also negotiated directly with top US CIA officials bringing “terrorism suspects” to Egypt for “questioning” and torture.

One of his and the CIA’s victims was a Canadian citizen, Ahmad El Maati, who was detained and tortured for 22 months.

Another victim was Egyptian-born and Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib, reportedly tortured by Suleiman himself in October 2001. To loosen Habib's tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib.

When US secretary of state Colin Powell argued in front of the United Nations to attack Iraq he used information gained from Egyptian torture victims, information which later proved to be untrue.

Suleiman is a close friend of Israel. According to cables leaked through Wikileaks, Suleiman felt personally hurt when Israel criticized him for allowing gun smuggling to continue through the Egypt Gaza border.

Suleiman responded, if you’re not satisfied with our actions then the Israeli defence forces are “welcome” to enter the Philadelphia corridor between Egypt and Gaza and solve the problem yourselves. Can you imagine Canada ever inviting a foreign country’s military onto our sovereign soil to handle an issue they were not happy with?

In addition, this begs the question: do Palestinians have a right to defend themselves? Israel has the fourth largest military in the world even considering its small size. Yet Israel contends that Palestinians should not be allowed to arm themselves. The Gaza tunnels are mainly used for smuggling in food, fuel and medical supplies which Israel will not allow.

As part of Egypt’s “peace treaty” brokered through Jimmy Carter, Egypt controls the Gaza border and has even installed a metal wall meters below the earth to prevent the digging of tunnels. In return the US gives Egypt $1.5 billion dollar a year, $1.3 of which is for military hardware.

Other Wikileaks files show that Suleiman wanted Hamas "isolated" and that while controlling the border Gazans should "go hungry but not starve".

On 3 February, in an interview on state television, Suleiman accused the demonstrators in Tahrir Square of being controlled by foreigners and foreign agendas, and described international journalists as enemies of the state.

He has begun a dialogue with some opposition parties but his concessions are minor and not to be trusted.

Protesters are right not to negotiate with him until Mubarak steps down.

Suleiman was handpicked by the dictator Mubarak himself, who has made promises in the past for reform and free and fair elections, which have never come true.

So how can Egyptians trust anything better will come from Suleiman?

If the protesters leave Tahrir Square we can be sure Suleiman will round them up for arrest, torture and possibly death.

Suleiman must step down with Mubarak and clear the way for young Egyptian men and women to build a true democracy and to bring safety, freedom and prosperity to all Egyptians.

Personally, my hope and pride is with the young Egyptians who have conducted the most peaceful revolution of our time.

With files from Khaled Mouammar, president Canadian Arab Federation; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; and Wikileaks.

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