Suleiman is an increasingly frequent visitor to Washington—and, in fact, has become a key Mubarak troubleshooter and point person with the United States. At first he was not altogether comfortable in his new role. "As an intelligence man, he's used to working in the shadows," the general, who is a friend of Suleiman's, went on. "It's difficult for him to stand up in a nonmilitary setting and make a speech; he doesn't have the charisma that a politician has. But that being said, he's not unsophisticated, nor is he a timid man. I've dealt with him over the years and have seen him tell the high command, 'This is wrong, and this is right,' even when his opinions have not been popular. He's not on good terms with [Field Marshal Mohammed] Tantawi"—the Minister of Defense, who would have been a logical successor to the presidency, but he's in poor health and nearly as old as Mubarak—"but that's not uncommon here. One of the givens in Egypt is that the chief of intelligence, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Defense are meant to dislike one another. It's one of the ways that Mubarak manages to stay ahead of them."
To learn more about General Suleiman's new public image, I asked Hisham Kassem, of The Cairo Times, about it. He pointed to two enlarged photographs of Suleiman that hang above his desk. One had appeared in The Cairo Times a few months before, the other in the official government press shortly afterward. The Cairo Times photograph shows a dour and rigid Suleiman, seemingly annoyed by the intrusion of the photographer's lens, standing with Yasir Arafat, with whom the general was attempting to negotiate the cease-fire in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The official photograph, taken at the same time, shows a more sympathetic Suleiman: his eyes are twinkling, almost in a smile; his posture is more relaxed; and Arafat seems to have shrunk in the general's commanding presence.
The political game is not in Omar Suleiman's blood. Yet now he, like Gamal Mubarak, is seemingly being groomed by the establishment—of which both men, of course, are part. One of the more intriguing questions about their emergence as potential successors is whether they are being groomed in tandem or, perhaps, represent a power struggle between reformers and hard-liners of the regime. This might explain the government's often zigzag policies. When, for example, Gamal Mubarak was credited with establishing a council for human rights, General Suleiman was held responsible for a newly restrictive law on the activities of nongovernmental organizations. And when the younger Mubarak championed the abolition of state security courts, Suleiman was the driving force behind the renewal of emergency law. Cairenes were mystified, and some began to ask whether the tight cabal of generals ruling Egypt was in danger of losing its grip.
By this summer it was clear that an unintended consequence of the destruction of Saddam Hussein's secular government was that the way had been paved for the emergence in Iraq of a formidable Shiite clerical bloc—one that could end up dominating politics in the Middle East for years to come. At the same time, the volume of "chatter" intercepted between various militant Islamist groups had convinced U.S. intelligence officials that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda was very much alive. The chatter also indicated the emergence of a new leader in the organization: a name new to many, he is Saif al-Adel. A member of the militant Egyptian group al-Jihad, bin Laden's former chief of security, and before that one of his bodyguards, al-Adel is believed by intelligence officials to have assumed the role of al-Qaeda's military commander—making him No. 3 in the organization. That he's a former Egyptian army colonel trained in special operations is not a surprise: members of Egypt's army, intelligence services, and police have long been key members of al-Jihad—a military cell of which was responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And since the mid-1990s al-Qaeda has drawn its most capable, competent, and ruthless operatives from al-Jihad. Some were radicalized in Mubarak's prisons, others in army mosques, still others in the decade-long Egyptian-supported and CIA-financed jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Saif al-Adel—whose real name is Mohammed Makkawi—was sculpted by all three. Ambitious and erratic, he may have directed three lethal car bombings in Riyadh this past May; and is said to have devised a plan, as early as 1987, to hijack an Egyptian commercial jet and crash it into the country's parliament. Al-Adel's army training proved critical over the years, as did his friendship with Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's designated heir, who had served as a surgeon in the Egyptian army.