By Patricia Lee Sharpe
So Omar Suleiman is now in the race for President of Egypt—and by popular demand? He’s got signatures? He’s got a crowd of boosters? He’s bending—oh so graciously!—to the people’s will? Believe that and I’ll tell you another! Omar Suleiman was Hosni Mubarak’s chief of intelligence for 18 years. This guy knows all of the tricks of the trade, none nice or straightforward, as too many Egyptians all too painfully know.
American officialdom is also aware of Suleiman’s talents and proclivities. He was there for the C.I.A. when the U.S. wished to grill suspected terrorists in dark holes far from the prying eyes of the U.S. press or anyone else who might be a mite uncomfortable about condoning torture or using information so tainted. This little favor was known by the once innocuous term “rendition.”
Why Suleiman? Why Now?
All that being the case and in the absence of any inside information, I confess that, to me, the Suleiman candidacy smells like a rat dressed in a badly tattered and besmirched stars-and-stripes. Here’s one fear that might be agitating U.S. operatives: if Islamists control Egypt’s parliament and the presidency, they might take great pleasure in spilling those unpalatable beans. Not as allegation. Not as supposition. As fact, demonstrable, undeniable.
Consider the timing of Suleiman’s candidacy. It’s a last minute thing. The presidential election is just around the corner. The Muslim Brotherhood, contrary to well-publicized promises, though unsurprisingly in the world of realpolitik, has decided to field a candidate, a well-known rich businessman. At this point, the odds on Amr Moussa, a secular candidate who might have out polled a very attractive Salafist candidate, plummet from possible to well nigh hopeless. The main trouble is that Moussa is only marginally more attractive than a master spy. Yes, he’s a former Arab league chief, but he was also one of Mubarak’s inner circle. A former foreign minister, in fact, not the sort of bio to fire up young idealists or anyone else hoping for a non-Islamist change in the status quo ante Tahrir Square.
At this point, it’s looking as if the Brotherhood could sweep the board, ending up with the presidency as well as the majority in parliament it already enjoys, which puts the Brothers in a position to dominate Constitution-writing, too. Coptic Christians and secularists are rather nervous about this prospect, although the Brotherhood have promised not to proclaim a regressive version of Sharia as the law of the land. But how consoling can that be? They’re already broken the promise to pass on contesting for the presidency.
Things are looking bleak for certain Americans because, some would say, they’re looking bleak for Israel. A government controlled by the Brotherhood might upset the delicate balance of power and money whereby (to put it a bit simplistically) U.S. dollars pour into Israel and Egypt, Israeli settlers pour into the occupied territories, and peace is maintained so long as the Palestinians put up with every conceivable indignity. Facing the prospect of an Egypt thoroughly under the control of the untested Brotherhood, one can imagine Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-conservative political allies going bananas in Jerusalem, their counterparts and financiers in the U.S. equally in a panic, and all of them thinking: We must do something about this! We must find someone we can work with!
And who better than someone Mossud and the C.I.A. have been working with for so many years! Omar Suleiman.
Neutralizing the Military
At this point in the post-Mubarak era, a blatant military coup would not go down very well, but a cleverly engineered election must be under consideration. Candidate Suleiman has the experience, nerve and network of henchmen to bring it off, international observers be damned. The military would stand by, apparently above the fray, having been assured by Suleiman and supporters that the generals' economic stake in the system will be protected. Under a victorious President Suleiman Egypt will continue to serve as a buffer between Israel and the more rabid anti-Zionists, Washington and Jerusalem will relax, and those who agitated for change and democracy in Egypt will have been sold down the river Nile.
I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some such thoughts were being batted around in Washington. In the Pentagon. In various intelligence agencies. Among some pro-Israeli organizations. Even in the White House and the State Department.
But to all of you I say: don’t do it! Leave the election alone. Don’t steal it. Don’t buy it with some secret cache of cash that sloshes around under C.I.A. control. Don’t stuff ballot boxes. Don’t buy crowds. Don’t help to falsify signatures. Don’t trample, again, on all those pretty words about democracy and turning a new leaf and listening to the voices of Muslims.
Idealism Coincides with Experience
This isn’t necessarily the voice of idealism speaking. It’s the voice of realism, of experience. Manipulating elections never turns out well in the long run. Look what happened after the U.S. and U.K. overturned popular elections in Iran in the 1950s. Oh yes, the U.S. got a little oil, but Iran was saddled with a phoney Shah, who ran a particularly nasty secret police operation. Iranians finally overthrew him, but they still don’t trust us, so they want their own nukes. Well, duh!
How about other elections that U.S. governments manipulated or bought or rigged by way of assassination? How stable and prosperous is Nicaragua? Guatemala? Panama? Were a few bananas, some sugar, a happy shipping company, worth what it's cost to protect commercial privileges and profits? How successful was the bloody campaign in Viet Nam? And those were backwaters. Egypt is the linchpin of the Arab world, and Arabs are not the passive masses they once seemed to be.
The blowback from manipulating these elections could be far worse than having to deal with the Arab Brotherhood. Let the Egyptians choose their own leaders. That’s what the agitation in Tahrir Square was all about. Even the secularists don’t want Americans to save them from Sharia.