The Unbrotherly Relations Between Egypt's Omar Suleiman and the Muslim Brotherhood

Egypt awaits a decision as to whether the senior general who served under Mubarak will be eligible to run for president.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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There's never a dull moment for Egypt's former Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian citizens gathered in Tahrir Square to protest his presidential candidacy. Most of those protesters were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they were joined by those who belong to secular movements. Demonstrators held posters picturing Suleiman on a backdrop of the Israeli flag and shouted slogans of "Suleiman and Israel hand in hand" through megaphones.

They clearly indicated - not only to Suleiman, but also to the election committee charged with deciding if the general is fit for election – that anyone who approves his candidacy effectively paves the way for Israel's entrance into Egyptian politics. In the heat of the demonstration, large groups of protesters made their way toward the building that houses the election committee, and threatened to attack committee members. In the last minute however, the committee members abandoned the building and agreed to postpone the decision.

Egypt's former Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman, pictured in Cairo on February 6, 2011.Credit: Reuters

But Suleiman, a 76-year-old senior general, has gained skills not only in the military academy of Egypt, but also in that of the USSR. He participated in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and – no less importantly – Suleiman is a product of the tough southern Egypt, an area that has produced intellectual combatants the shaped the country for generations. His quiet tone of voice is known - including by Israelis who have worked with him - to be misleading.

It is now time for Suleiman to manage a new political campaign – one that he is not accustomed to. He must compete with two central movements: the Muslim Brotherhood and their religious partners on the one side and the secular movements on the other, whose common denominator is their hate for remnants of the Mubarak regime and their mutual fear of one another. The question is whether the relationship between the two groups could allow Suleiman to gain the support of the secular Egyptians, the Copts and the liberals.

A survey conducted by Al Arabia indicated that most respondents prefer a presidential regime over a governmental regime under which the majority of authority lies with the government, while the president's role remains symbolic. It seems that Suleiman will frame his candidacy as one that will meet the demand of a strong president, preferably a military man. But what Suleiman may not have taken into account is the extent to which the Egyptian people oppose the candidacy of officials who served under the Mubarak regime.

The parliament dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members sees Suleiman as a threat in various ways. If elected as president, he is likely – in their opinion – to put the brakes on their desire to apply Sharia law to state law, to grant the army freedom to act in the country's economic and social fields, and could be a candidate that serves as a safe-haven for all opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties. The worst case for the Muslim Brotherhood would be if their presidential candidate, Khairat al-Shater, fails to overcome the "old regime."

The Muslim Brotherhood has therefore rushed to introduce a bill in parliament that forbids any senior officials of the Mubarak regime from running for presidential candidacy. Under the new law, all those who served as prime minister, vice-president or the head of a party under Mubarak in the 10 years preceding the revolution would not be allowed to run for president in the next ten years. As such, under the bill, Suleiman, who served for a short time as Mubarak's vice- president, and Ahmed Shafiq, who served in the past as prime minister, would not be eligible to run for president. However, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa would be eligible. The bill was passed in Egyptian parliament on Thursday, but has not yet been approved by the ruling military council nor the elections committee, who are yet to take a position on the matter.

Over the weekend, Suleiman made harsh claims against the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of being responsible for attacks on police stations, of "hijacking the revolution" and of threatening his life. Now, his supporters and competitors must investigate those claims before they make any decisions regarding his candidacy.

It seems that the commotion Suleiman is causing is actually working in his favor for now, as a survey conducted by the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm attributed him with 20 percent of votes, as opposed to only 7 percent that went to Moussa. On the other hand, his opponents claim the announcement of his candidacy caused a steep drop in the stock exchange that led to losses of six billion Egyptian pounds.

The reason for this that Suleiman's candidacy and the threatening reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood - who declared they would head to the streets if he is elected - have caused instability and concern that the presidential elections will suffer from forgery and the influence of the army, which would want Suleiman to serve as president.

The shock of Egyptian speculations is burning everywhere, and by the time Egypt holds presidential elections its citizens are expected to go through a great number of ups and downs mainly related with the ability of Egypt's parliament to work out a temporary economic plan that allows the country to get back to normal.

Read this article in Hebrew.