CAIRO — Angry mourners denounced the Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday at the funeral for Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s longtime top spy, in a ceremony that encapsulated the odd political dissonance that governs this country, where a democratically elected president newly in office shares power with a still-dominant military council.
That president, former Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi, did not attend the rites for Suleiman, whose agents once arrested Morsi for his work on behalf of the Brotherhood.
But Morsi’s office was represented by its top administrative official, the grand chamberlain, and several senior military figures attended, including Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces.
The anti-Brotherhood sentiment was obvious, as was hostility toward the news media, which many in the crowd blamed for the rise of the Brotherhood, which Suleiman had fought with unrestrained brutality through his 18 years as deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s head of intelligence.
Less obvious but still palapable was an anti-American sentiment among a conspiracy-minded group that believes the United States abandoned Mubarak – and may have had a hand in Suleiman’s unexpected death in the United States Thursday.
"He is dead. Do you know what that means?" wailed Hend Ghorab, a 37-year-old tour guide as she stood, dressed in black, in the middle of the Al Rashdan mosque, surrounded by hundreds of other mourners. "That means everything is gone… The hope is gone!”
Suleiman, 76, had long been among Mubarak’s most trusted advisers, dating to a 1995 assassination attempt in Ethiopia that Mubarak credited Suleiman with thwarting. U.S. diplomats, in a 2007 State Department cable revealed by WikiLeaks, said he was a likely successor to the presidency.
Suleiman’s close ties to the CIA and Israel, and his cooperation with the Bush administration’s policy of rendering terrorism suspects to Egypt for interrogation, revealed in other cables, doomed, however, the possibility that he would succeed Mubarak, who had appointed him vice president in the early days of the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s resignation.
His death while undergoing treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio renewed the arguments over his legacy, with the government and anti-Mubarak activists disagreeing over whether Suleiman, a retired general who served in two wars against Israel before becoming an advocate for peace after the two countries signed a treaty in 1979, deserved a military funeral.
The decision by Morsi’s office to endorse such a sendoff – Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali, was quoted by the state-owned MENA news agency as saying that as a general, Suleiman deserved military honors -- angered human rights advocates.
“Omar Suleiman, regardless of his position, or role, does not deserve a military funeral, and the government should have gotten rid of any person who is a hypocrite toward the revolution," said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer. "The presidency’s approval of holding a military funeral for Suleiman shows that it is continuing to cooperate with the military council.”
There was little sign of that dissent, however, at the funeral itself, which was heavily guarded by soldiers and riot police, their faces covered in sweat in the blazing afternoon sun.
A military band in bright red uniforms played martial music, and a horse-mounted military escort, one in the front and four in the back, accompanied Suleiman’s flag-draped coffin as it was pulled through streets lined with military police bearing flowers to Cairo Cemetery for burial.
Chants of “Down, Down with the Muslim Brotherhood” could be heard from the crowd. “Omar is Allah’s favorite, and Morsi is his enemy” was another common refrain.
“You destroyed the country, what else do you want?" one angry woman, dressed in black, shouted at a videographer for state television who was recording the scene. "I’m not going to wear black till we purge the media.”
“Suleiman, O hero, your blood will not be in vain,” the crowd chanted, followed by “the martyr will go to heaven,” referring to Suleiman.
Suleiman largely dropped from sight after announcing Mubarak’s resignation on Egyptian television Feb. 11, 2011, until this past April, when he announced he would run for the presidency. He was disqualified, however, when the country’s electoral commission determined that he had not submitted enough signatures endorsing his candidacy.
Still, Suleiman was considered a likely candidate in the 2016 election cycle, until MENA announced that he had died. A news release from the Cleveland Clinic said he was undergoing treatment for amyloidosis, a disease that affects multiple organs including the heart and kidneys.
Ismail and El Naggar are McClatchy special correspondents.