The Dog Whistles of Omar Suleiman

Omar Suleiman sat atop Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS) for 20 years, longer than anyone else has ever occupied that thorny and uncomfortable seat.  It would be easy to attribute this to pure ruthlessness. It would also be wrong. The man swam in a shark tank of cut throats. Ruthlessness would not have been enough. He must possess a keen and supple intelligence as well. Let us also remember that the entire Egyptian elite (including the MB) were willing to negotiate with him during the revolution, except for the El-Baradei.  Ignore for a moment the twitter chatter  and focus on what he has done and is likely to do. As with any spook, he is much more comfortable operating away from the limelight, and will use dog whistle politics at every chance. Let us count the many dog whistles he has and will engage in.

1- His entry into the race was impressive, just at the last minute after the field was clear and to force his opponents into fumbles. Egyptians respect wiliness.

2- He laid an easy trap for Khairat El-Shater, who foolishly walked into it. Instead of a reasoned response, El-Shater went into rhetorical overdrive, saying that Suleiman can never win a fair election and if he won there would be a revolution. This opens up El-Shater to the charge that the MB will only tolerate elections if they win them and that they threaten the state if the elections do not go their way. This also plays into the fears of many Egyptians and also to the fears of the West, expressed by the slogan about the Islamists “One Man, One Vote, Once”. Fence sitters who voted for the MB in the parliamentary elections will rethink voting for El-Shater.

3- He will appeal to the fears of the business class that the MB will replace the Gamal Mubarak cronies with the MB grandees. This is a powerful appeal to the Middle Classes, and to the business people who were squeezed by not being close to Gamal Mubarak and are just as afraid of the El-Shater cronies. He will make this appeal in a subtle way by emphasizing that he was opposed to Gamal Mubarak and by floating rumors that Gamal Mubarak tried to assassinate him in the waning days of his father’s presidency. This appeal, by the way, will work well with the Copts, many of whom are in the business classes.

4- He will appeal to the average Egyptian tired of rising crime but also wary of police corruption. His appeal will be that he is the only man ruthless enough and savvy enough to take on the the Ministry of Interior and win. He will tar others such as Amr Moussa and Aboul Fotouh as weak and not able to deal with the police gang, and El-Shater as wanting to replace the police with MB militias (the last trial of El-Shater was about forming a militia).

5- He will appeal to many anti-Islamists (occasionally called liberals) by saying he is an “old man” who will not have a dynasty, but serve one term, clean the mess and leave a better Egypt to one of their own.

6- He will appeal to the West and Israel by an unlikely route, he will out “national” the MB and socialist candidates. He can pull that off because of his personal relationships with many leaders in all the involved countries.

7- He will cultivate his insider status to appeal the the Arab Nationalist crowd by promising to restore Egypt’s leadership in the Arab world, without risking a breach with the Gulf countries.

8- He will blunt the Salafi vote by blackmailing many of the Salafi Sheikhs who control this vote.  These Sheikhs are mostly TV charlatans and there is no doubt they have alot to hide; passports, nose jobs, women, you name it.

9- His appeal to the Army top brass is obvious. They will cease to be in the hot seat, their benefits are not going away, and the dirt he has on any of them will not be leaked. Let us remember that part of the GIS charge was to vet the Army officers.

10- He will squeeze every ounce of benefit from his Saidi roots and play the village elder to many who supported the NDP in previous elections.

So these are the whistles. Will they work? Will they be enough to blunt his years of closeness with Mubarak? Time will tell.



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