America, Meet Omar Suleiman, the New "Transitional" Man in Cairo
Late last week rumors were flying that the Obama administration was ready to throw its support behind newly-minted Egyptian vice president and longstanding intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, whose former claim to fame was his knack for getting personally involved in torturing terrorism suspects "rendered" to Egypt by the United States. Despite the denials, Americans awoke on Saturday to find that their government had indeed backed him as leader of an "orderly transition." Though as development economist Bill Easterly noted, American-backed "transitions" have a habit of not being so transitional.
So how has Suleiman performed so far? Despite his highly publicized meetings with opposition groups, the limited concessions and promises of future liberalization are not promising. Suleiman's torturous ways have apparently not let up, with his dreaded Mukhabarat running makeshift torture chambers across Cairo, according to two New York Times reporters who witnessed one firsthand. When the opposition Wafd Party asked Suleiman if he was considering lifting the decades-old state of emergency, which allows the government to arrest and detain with impugnity, the longtime intelligence chief responded incredulously, "At a time like this?" Regarding Mubarak's resignation, Suleiman told the Wafd Party, "Not only will he not resign, he will not cede or delegate his powers."
Only time will tell how this "transition" turns out. But if Suleiman reneges on his promises to change his ways and steer Egypt towards democracy, the Egyptian people are likely to hold the United States at least partially responsible. As one banner in Tahrir Square read on Sunday: "No Mubarak, no Suleiman. Both are American Agents."