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Joshua Hersh
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Omar Suleiman, Hosni Mubarak's Former Spy Chief, Enters Egyptian Presidential Race

Posted: 04/ 8/2012 3:09 pm Updated: 04/10/2012 2:45 pm

Omar Suleiman Egypt
In a 2010 file photo, Omar Suleiman, Egypt's spy chief, meets with Israeli president Shimon Peres.

WASHINGTON -- The former official known as the C.I.A.'s man in Cairo formally entered the Egyptian presidential race on Sunday in a move that threatens to upset all but the most superficial gains of the year-old revolution.

Omar Suleiman, the head of Egypt's spy agency under deposed president Hosni Mubarak, received the necessary signatures to add his name to the packed list of presidential contenders, ending weeks of speculation that such a move might be imminent.

To many Egyptians, Suleiman represents a return to the stability and secularity that seemed as bygone as the Mubarak era itself.

When the revolutionary uprising began last January, Suleiman was touted as an obvious successor to Mubarak -- a way to transfer power without transposing the entire government. But with crowds swelling in Cairo's Tahrir Square into February, it became obvious that popular sentiment would not be satisfied by such a maneuver and Suleiman disappeared from the public sphere.

Since then, the political scene in Egypt has largely played out as a tug-of-war between the popular Islamist parties and the entrenched and still-powerful military forces.

The military has made life difficult for aspiring Islamists, most recently by deeming the ultra-conservative Hazem Abou Ismail ineligible to run for president. His mother is an American citizen, and a technicality in the military-constructed, post-Mubarak constitution bans anyone with non-Egyptian ancestry from holding the presidency.

Nevertheless, until Sunday, it appeared all but certain that the presidential election would be won by a religiously backed candidate, chief among them Khaled el-Shater, the candidate from the predominate Muslim Brotherhood.

The return of Suleiman, thought to be the preferred candidate of the military, throws much of that in question, and may bring the revolution full-circle.

Known for his closeness to the American intelligence community and the Israeli government, Suleiman was "the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions," according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer.

In a WikiLeaks cable released last year, an American diplomat reported that "there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of" Suleiman taking the reigns of power.

Other cables indicated that Suleiman spoke to the Israeli government daily for much of his tenure, and that he played a particular role in controlling activity in the Hamas-run Gaza strip, which abuts both Egypt and Israel.

In the controversial and devastating Israeli war on Gaza, Israeli officials are believed to have relied on intelligence and targeting information from Suleiman, who previously pledged to make sure that an election in the strip would never take place.

In appearances in Washington last month, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who worked with Suleiman during that conflict, described a potential Suleiman presidency as a "very encouraging" sign for the direction of Egypt.

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