| GEO World|
Omar Suleiman, Egypt's spy chief, takes the helm
| Updated at: 0639 PST, Friday, February 11, 2011|
CAIRO: Omar Suleiman, handed presidential powers Thursday, was Egypt's intelligence chief before he came out of the shadows to be named President Hosni Mubarak's first-ever deputy.
More at home in a tailored suit than a military uniform, Suleiman -- always impeccably dressed and sporting a groomed moustache -- is regarded as a Mubarak loyalist.
He is also a discreet negotiator who favours working behind the scenes -- a talent that will be put to the test as he tackles the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising and the many challenges facing the Arab world's most populous nation.
Suleiman, 77, who received military training in the former Soviet Union, was for years a highly enigmatic figure for the world at large and in Egypt, where the all-powerful military's activities are shrouded in secrecy.
But he increasingly acquired a public face in recent years, being tipped even before the uprising as a potential successor to Mubarak, himself a former head of the air force five years Suleiman's senior.
Symbolising the unparalleled role of the military in governing Egypt, Suleiman saluted Mubarak when, on January 29, he took the oath as Egypt's first vice president since Mubarak himself had the job in 1981.
Mubarak automatically became president when his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamists in the same year.
Born in 1936 to a well-off family in the southern Egyptian town of Qena, Suleiman graduated from Cairo's military academy in 1955.
Appointed aide to Egypt's military intelligence chief in 1988, he replaced his boss a year later.
Suleiman has been a negotiating partner for the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, orchestrating a series of albeit short-lived truces between the Middle East foes over the past 10 years.
But while he may be liked and trusted abroad, many in Egypt regard Suleiman as part of Mubarak's inner circle, and as such a pillar of a corrupt regime.
When it became clear Thursday night that Mubarak wasn't stepping down and that he was instead delegating powers to his deputy, an angry crowd at Cairo's central Tahrir square tellingly chanted: "Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman!"
In 1995, Suleiman advised Mubarak to ride in an armoured car during a visit to Addis Ababa that shielded him from the fire of Islamist gunmen which killed the car's driver.
During the 1990s and following the botched Ethiopian assassination attempt, Suleiman joined the efforts of the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies to crack down on Islamists, at home and abroad.
He also proceeded to target home-grown Islamist groups Gamaa Islamiya and Jihad after they carried out a attacks on foreigners that hit Egypt's vital tourism industry hard.