Via the Telegraph, by David Blair---a very interesting article from Feb. 24, 2009
General Omar Suleiman is already one of the world's most powerful spy chiefs. And in time, says David Blair, he could well be Hosni Mubarak's successor as leader of Egypt.
Among the first to receive the news of the terrorist attack in Cairo would have been a spymaster of 23 years standing who has quietly become one of the Middle East's most significant figures. General Omar Suleiman, the director of Egypt's intelligence service, is virtually unknown outside his home country, yet he is one of the world's most powerful spy chiefs – and an expert in solving intractable problems.
All of the Middle East's most delicate issues land on his desk in Cairo. At present, he is trying to broker a ceasefire in Gaza, requiring him to win the trust of both Israel and Hamas. These implacable enemies refuse to talk to each other, but they both deal with Gen Suleiman.
During a single week this month, Gen Suleiman juggled the "Gaza file" with diplomatic missions to Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
He is also a crucial figure in what no one any longer calls the global "war on terrorism". The tall, slightly stooping man, who favours navy blue suits and has an iron grey moustache in the style of a 1940s British colonel, is an expert on defeating violent Islamist extremism; he is probably the only serving intelligence chief who can claim to have come close to achieving this in his own country.
Soon, Gen Suleiman may emerge from the shadows and become Egypt's new leader. President Hosni Mubarak, who has dominated the Arab world's largest country for almost 28 years, will turn 81 in May. He trusts hardly anyone and relies on a tiny circle of loyalists. Gen Suleiman is by far the most significant member of this privileged handful. A western diplomat in Cairo rated his "influence, power and access" as simply "incredible". Hisham Kassem, an Egyptian commentator who helped found the country's first independent daily newspaper, called him "the second most powerful man after Mubarak" and said he was the only serious contender for the top job.
Gen Suleiman is also a valued partner of the British government. Any British minister passing through Cairo will always ask to see him. His department, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS), maintains close links with MI6 and has particular expertise in counter-terrorism. The diplomat described the organisation as "impressive" and "well-resourced", commanding a "big foreign presence through their embassies overseas".
Much of this turns on the personality of Gen Suleiman himself.
His life story is entwined with the battle against Islamist extremism, which, in turn, has an intimate connection with Egypt. The thinkers who gave birth to the modern strain of fundamentalism, notably Sayid Qutb, were Egyptian, and the key political force behind this ideology, the Muslim Brotherhood, emerged in Cairo's tea houses.
Gen Suleiman was born in 1935 in Qena, a poor town on the Nile in Upper Egypt. Joining the army offered escape from poverty and the 19-year-old Omar Suleiman arrived