Suleiman Playing a Weak Hand Against an Army of Young Egyptian Revolutionaries

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

In a picture of Egypt’s new Vice president launching his negotiations with the nascent opposition movement of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, General Omar Suleiman looked vigorous for his 75 years, dapper, as always, in dark suit, surrounded by the fearsome aura he cultivated over 20 years as Egypt’s overall chief of Intelligence.

By contrast, the four men and one woman representing the revolutionaries ranged in age from early twenties to under 40. Two young men wrapped scarves casually around their necks. A handsome unveiled young woman in her early twenties wore her hair slightly damp, unveiled. The oldest two men were wearing blue jeans.

The general looked as cool as always but the bespectacled young man barely a foot away vigorously pointed his hand at the vice president, making what seemed an insistent point.


Only15 days ago, none of these younger Egyptians nor the rest of us for that matter, would have dreamt of negotiating with Egypt’s new pharaoh his total surrender. What’s most impressive is that those negotiating the table within a few feet of the general seemed to think it is an argument among equals.

General Suleiman may be chief of intelligence and deputy commander of an army of a half a million soldiers armed by the USA. But these young folks had their army too, only a mile away, and it is one that for two weeks now has held the real keys to power in Egypt: An enormous revolution, not only in Tahrir Square where hundred of thousands continued to camp out, but across the country with many more hundreds of thousands flocking similarly to gathering spots in, among other cities, Alexandria, Suez, Fayoum, and Qina. On some days they had as many as two million out all over the nation. They have the upper hand.

General Suleiman’s problem is that he is trying to bridge a gap of generations. Everyone under 50 has been deprived of political participation in Egypt ever since the army coup of 1952. They really want in. It is not a negotation. Nor are the differences simply over living conditions, corruption, and demands for freedom, democracy, unbound elections, and truly representative parliaments. It is about a way of thinking. It is about how to bury an entire era of rule by army officers who forbade Egyptians from thinking.


So General Suleiman is a man of the past. A 75-year-old general who cannot comprehend the chutzpah of these youngsters asking him to get rid of his boss and a way of life for an entire class of army officers and their families who expropriated all the largest Arab nation of 85 million for more than six decades.

Such impertinence, General Suleiman must have been thinking?

But those were precisely the facts: a ruling party composed of 3 million members with offices from one end of the country to the other had its splendid Cairo headquarters burned to the ground, as were its offices in multiple cities. Its members are running scared, denying they ever belonged to the ruling party, or swearing they were made to do join it.


These representatives of the Tahrir Movement have decimated a formidable police force of 1.2 million uniformed officers and soldiers plus countless thousands of Tonton-Macoutes-type secret police, none of whom dare to show up in or out of uniforms.

Worse yet. The army is not a sure bet. Its top command is split about saving the regime. The only thing it has agreed to do was a statement last week asserting it would ‘’never’’ shoot at fellow Egyptians. The revolutionaries in Tahrir Square pocketed this.

General Suleiman also knows that the former minister of interior, Habib Adly, is under military arrest accused, by the military which had to clean up after him, for opening jails to let criminals out and sowing chaos across the country.

General Suleiman and President Mubarak know the gig is up. Mr. Mubarak shares the same palace where the talks took place, one of many of King Farouk’s sumptuous dwellings looted by members of the regime and their families. He was certainly listening in on some electronic bugging system.

Soon, the hunt will spread to members of the old regime: the businessmen friends of the two Mubarak sons, Alaa and Gamal, and those of Mrs. Mubarak’s coterie; the chiefs of parliament, the defunct party, the court systems, and all doyens of a formidable edifice of corruption and repression. Who knows, if he insists on staying, it may extend Mr. Mubarak himself.

General Suleiman has a weak hand. His best bet is to fold on all demands. He can choose bluffing, but the bet could well be on his life, and certainly is on life as he and the ruling elite of Mubarak used to know it.

Mr. Ibrahim is a frequent contributor of The New York Sun.

The New York Sun

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