A brief look at major players in Egypt's political crisis

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 1, 2011 

CAIRO, Egypt — Although President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday that he wouldn't run for a sixth consecutive term, he will retain a considerable ability to influence the political upheaval unleashed by the biggest anti-government protests in his 30-year rule.

Here are brief profiles of Mubarak and some other major players in the crisis roiling the most populous nation of the Arab world.

President Hosni Mubarak

Mubarak was born in the Nile Delta province of Menoufiya in 1928 and graduated from Egypt's prestigious Military Academy in 1949. A pilot, he participated in two major wars — 1967 and 1973 — with Israel.

Mubarak rose to the rank of general and commanded the air force during 1973 conflict. He became president after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat by army officers opposed to peace with Israel. He promptly imposed the emergency rule that the regime has used ever since to justify arbitrary arrests, infinite detentions and other harsh measures against opponents.

He became a close U.S. ally, preserving Sadat's 1978 peace treaty with Israel and ruthlessly pursuing Islamic extremists. Since 2004, he's permitted criticism of his regime by independent news media and bloggers, and allowed some protests. At the same time, Mubarak gave the police free reign to crackdown on his political opponents, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

During his 30-year rule, Egyptians endured rising food prices, deteriorating infrastructure and public services and high unemployment, especially among the young. They also complained of rampant official corruption symbolized by businessmen appointed to Cabinet positions and top posts in the ruling National Democratic Party.

Mohamed ElBaradei

ElBaradei, 69, gained prominence as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, winning the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for the agency's work.

While some opposition activists consider him a unifying figure who could win the presidency, others regard him as too pro-Western and an opportunist who remained outside the country for years while they took on the regime.

ElBaradei was born in 1942 to a well-off Cairo family. His father headed the Egyptian Bar Association.

He obtained a law degree at Cairo University and went to work for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. He earned an international law degree at New York University Law School in 1974.

In 1984, ElBaradei became a senior official at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria. He was selected in 1997 as the agency's director general, a position in which he took on the regimes of North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

But he also disputed the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq, saying there was no evidence that Iraq had rebuilt its nuclear arms program. He also challenged U.S. charges that Iran was close to developing a warhead.

The U.S. was the only country to oppose ElBaradei's reappointment to a third term as IAEA chief in 2005, eventually dropping its objections.

After leaving the IAEA in 2009, he returned to Egypt to co-found the National Association for Change, a loose coalition of opposition groups, and said that he was prepared to contest this year's presidential election.

Muslim Brotherhood

Started by Hassan al Banna in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is one of Egypt's oldest political organizations and its largest, most cohesive opposition movement.

In its contemporary incarnation, the brotherhood forswears violence and opposes al Qaida, embraces the democratic process, and says women can hold public office, except for the presidency. It is fiercely critical of Israel and the United States, but it says it would preserve the peace accord with Israel.

The brotherhood was founded to promote Islamic morals and charitable works with the stated goal of making the Quran and Sharia the "sole reference point for . . . ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community . . . and state." One of its key slogans is "Islam is the solution."

The organization's political involvement grew out of its agitation for an end to British colonial rule. The brotherhood supported a 1952 military coup that brought Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. But he outlawed the movement in 1954, jailing and killing hundreds of activists. Others fled, establishing branches abroad.

The movement moved underground. A leading member, Sayyid Qutb, is regarded as inspiring the founding of al Qaida and other radical groups by advocating the establishment of Islamic rule through jihad. Qutb was accused of trying to overthrow the government and hanged in 1966.

The mainstream movement re-emerged in the 1980s, seeking to join the political mainstream. It built a large following by providing social services and appealing to the religious sentiments of Egypt's conservative Muslim-dominated population.

It won an unprecedented 88 seats in Parliament in 2005 by having its candidates run as independents. During the 2010 election campaign, the regime cracked down so severely on the movement that it boycotted the vote.

Omar Suleiman

Born in the impoverished Upper Egypt governate of Qena in 1936, Mubarak's former intelligence chief was appointed first vice president last weekend.

Not much is known about Suleiman, 75, who kept a low profile in line with his previous post as intelligence czar, a go-between Israel and Palestinians who was close to the U.S. and Mubarak's most trusted adviser and troubleshooter.

Some experts suggest that he could lead a transitional government. But many protesters have rejected that idea, chanting that he, too, should leave office.

Stephen P. Cohen, a U.S. scholar who has served as an intermediary between Arab and Israeli leaders and has known Suleiman for years, said Suleiman has no interest in taking over from Mubarak.

"He sees his main responsibility now to make sure that there is no confrontation between the military and the people," said Cohen, the head of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. "That he considers a disastrous outcome that would challenge the very nature of the state."

Suleiman, who's fluent in English, is said to be brilliant, urbane and well-read.

But as head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, or EGIS, he's closely identified with the abuses meted out to Mubarak's opponents. He also worked closely with the CIA on renditions of al Qaida operatives, including one who was tortured in Egyptian custody.

Suleiman entered the Military Academy in 1954 and served as an army officer during the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. He rose to become deputy chief of military intelligence in 1986.

In frequent contact with Mubarak, he was elevated to EGIS director in 1993, a post in which he directed a harsh clampdown on Islamic extremists.

He reportedly sealed his position of trust with Mubarak by insisting on having an armored car flown into Ethiopia for a 1995 visit there by the Egyptian strongman. The vehicle saved the pair from an ambush by Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Ayman Nour

Nour, a lawyer and a former member of Parliament, is the founder of the opposition al Ghad (Tomorrow) Party. He ran a distant second to Mubarak in the country's first multi-candidate presidential election in 2006.

The following year, Nour was jailed and spent more than three years behind bars on disputed charges that he used forged signatures to start his party. He suffered ill-health while in jail and the Bush administration repeatedly called for his release, infuriating Mubarak.

While Nour, 46, was in jail, his party split into factions and its headquarters caught fire.

After his release, Nour resumed his opposition activities and regularly attended anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

Nour was a founder of the National Association For Change, the informal movement of secular and Islamic opposition groups pressing for constitutional changes that would allow ElBaradei to run for president this year.

(Naggar is a McClatchy special correspondent; Landay reported from Washington.)

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