Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak’s feared head of intelligence who was a close collaborator of both the United States and Israel, died Thursday in the United States, where he was undergoing unspecified medical treatment, Egypt’s official news agency said. He was 76.
Suleiman was named Mubarak’s vice president in the days preceding Mubarak’s resignation, and it was Suleiman who announced Mubarak’s departure from office on national television. But any expectation that Suleiman would replace Mubarak had been dashed by a series of leaked State Department cables that identified him as Egypt’s primary contact with the CIA and Israel.
Suleiman briefly returned to Egyptian politics earlier this year when he registered to run for the presidency. But he was disqualified in April when the country’s electoral commission ruled that he had not collected the required number of signatures endorsing his candidacy. The presidency was won by former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi, whose arrest Suleiman’s intelligence officers had carried out only a year earlier.
For 18 years, Suleiman oversaw Egypt’s intelligence apparatus, which was feared for the inhumane tactics its officers used against political suspects. Those same aggressive tactics, however, made him a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, with the U.S. sending some captured terrorist suspects to Egypt for questioning.
He was also a frequent interlocutor with Israeli officials after the Camp David accords of 1979 resulted in a peace treaty between the two countries. He was often photographed with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Born into a poor family in Qena in southern Egypt, Suleiman rose quickly through the ranks of the Egyptian army and served in both the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel. He was named director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service in 1995. In a 2007 State Department cable leaked by WikiLeaks, U.S. officials called him Mubarak’s “consigliere” and potential successor. Locally, he was often called Mubarak’s enforcer.
When the uprising against Mubarak began in January 2011, Suleiman famously urged protesters to go home. It was shortly afterward that Mubarak, who had gone years without a vice president, named Suleiman to the post in an attempt to appease protesters by naming a successor. But a deluge of criticism of the pick surrounded revelations of Suleiman’s involvement with the United States and Israel, and in the end, Suleiman’s last official act came Feb. 11, 2011, when he announced that Mubarak had resigned and that a military council had assumed executive authority.
Suleiman dropped from sight after his candidacy this year for the presidency ended, and it now appears he was undergoing medical treatment in the United States. With Egypt focused on Mubarak’s various, purported health scares, Suleiman’s health was rarely discussed, and there was talk that he would run again in the next election cycle in 2016 – apparently with little awareness that he wouldn’t be available.
His body is expected to be flown back to Egypt.
McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this report.