Key ap­point­ments af­firm piv­otal role of armed forces, in­tel­li­gence ser­vice

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY JA­NINE ZACHARIA

cairo — The in­stal­la­tion of mil­i­tary men into pow­er­ful new roles in the Egyp­tian govern­ment on Satur­day re­flected a mar­tial style of rule un­bro­ken in Egypt since Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser and his young of­fi­cers top­pled the monar­chy in 1952.

The newly des­ig­nated vice pres­i­dent, Gen. Omar Suleiman, 74, has headed Egypt’s in­tel­li­gence ser­vice for 18 years. Along with a new prime min­is­ter who is a for­mer air force com­man­der, Suleiman is first among a troika of lead­ers on whom Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak is re­ly­ing in what ap­pears to be an at­tempt to se­cure the regime, if not his pres­i­dency, af­ter days of protests aimed at his ouster.

U.S. of­fi­cials have long viewed Suleiman as a likely tran­si­tional leader, at min­i­mum, af­ter Mubarak leaves of­fice. In a clas­si­fied cable re­leased by the anti-se­crecy group Wik­iLeaks, a 2007 State Depart­ment as­sess­ment de­scribed Suleiman as a “rock-solid” loy­al­ist to Mubarak who was be­ing groomed, even then, for a more pub­lic role.

With army tanks dis­patched into the

streets, where sol­diers sought to calm an­gry pro­test­ers, the changes on Satur­day af­firmed the piv­otal role of Egypt’s mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices in a coun­try whose army has long held cit­i­zens’ re­spect, even if its com­man­ders are dis­liked.

Suleiman is known as a close and trusted ad­viser to Mubarak, as is Ahmed Shafiq, 69, the newly des­ig­nated prime min­is­ter. Field Mar­shal Mo­hammed Hus­sein Tantawi, 75, who re­mains in place as the top mil­i­tary com­man­der, isn’t seen as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor but likely would be an im­por­tant fig­ure in en­sur­ing the mil­i­tary’s loy­alty to a new govern­ment.

It was a com­bi­na­tion un­likely to ap­pease demon­stra­tors who have been de­mand­ing an end to Mubarak’s rule en­tirely.

“I feel to­day is a dis­ap­point­ment,” said Emad Ab­del Halim, 31, upon learn­ing Satur­day that Mubarak had cho­sen Suleiman as vice pres­i­dent, the suc­ces­sor’s post held by Mubarak when he in­her­ited power from An­war Sa­dat. “We don’t want him as our next pres­i­dent.”

De­spite the warm greet­ings given to demon­stra­tors by sol­diers in the street, there were no signs that the gen­er­als had aban­doned Mubarak, him­self a for­mer air force com­man­der. An­a­lysts said it ap­peared likely that the sol­diers had been in­structed to avoid the kinds of vi­o­lent clashes mounted by po­lice who had con­fronted the pro­test­ers with tear gas, rub­ber bul­lets and live am­mu­ni­tion.

“I think Mubarak has huge con­fi­dence in Tantawi’s abil­ity to keep the army un­der con­trol,” said a re­tired U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with Egypt.

But there was some spec­u­la­tion that the mil­i­tary’s top brass was still sort­ing out how to deal with the demon­stra­tors and whether to con­tinue to back Mubarak amid un­prece­dented calls for his ouster.

“What I’m feel­ing is there is a con­flict in­side the Egyp­tian army, and they did not yet find a so­lu­tion as to how to sort out what’s hap­pened in this coun­try. I be­lieve that some of them are with Mubarak and some are against,” said Yousef Zaki, a for­mer leader of Egypt’s his­toric Wafd party. “ There is no clear di­rec­tion.”

Along with Tantawi, an­other top mil­i­tary fig­ure is Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, 62, the army chief of staff, who in his few years in the po­si­tion has de­vel­oped good re­la­tions with his mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts in Washington.

Suleiman is per­haps bet­ter rec­og­nized in for­eign cap­i­tals than in Cairo. For much of his time as Egypt’s in­tel­li­gence chief, he worked be­hind the scenes with the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices across the Mid­dle East. In re­cent years, he as­sumed a more high­pro­file role, trav­el­ing rou­tinely to Is­rael to dis­cuss the peace process and at­tempt­ing to bro­ker a rap­proche­ment be­tween the ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions, Ha­mas and Fatah.

The tanks de­ployed through­out Egypt’s ma­jor cities of­fered a re­minder of the key role that the mil­i­tary has played in the coun­try’s his­tory since the 1952 revo­lu­tion. Among Egyp­tians who have felt vic­tim­ized by do­mes­tic se­cu­rity forces, the army is seen as a pro­tec­tor, not only from po­ten­tial threats be­yond Egypt’s border but also from the govern­ment it­self.

“ The mil­i­tary and the peo­ple we are one!” demon­stra­tors chanted as pro­test­ers rode aboard ar­mored mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles through the streets of Cairo on Satur­day.

With an es­ti­mated 480,000 men in arms, Egypt’s mil­i­tary is the 10th largest in the world. Yet with a peace treaty with Is­rael for more than three decades, Egypt hasn’t had much to do out­side its bor­ders, and the mil­i­tary has as a re­sult fo­cused its en­er­gies in­ter­nally.

“ They’re not in­ter­ested in fight­ing wars,” the re­tired Amer­i­can mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said. “ They’re in­ter­ested in the sta­bil­ity of the coun­try.”


Anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers, unim­peded by Egyp­tian sol­diers, chant from atop a tank dur­ing a rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.


An Egyp­tian army of­fi­cer shouts slo­gans as he is car­ried by pro­test­ers Satur­day in Cairo. The army has long held the re­spect of cit­i­zens. “ The mil­i­tary and the peo­ple we are one!” some demon­stra­tors chanted.

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