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Ex-Egyptian intel czar's presidential bid raises eyebrows

Former intelligence director Hossam Khairallah recently made waves in Egypt by announcing a planned presidential bid. Many observers, however, voice serious reservations

Ahmed Eleiba , Thursday 12 Jan 2012
Former Lt.General Hossam Khairallah has his sights set on Egypt's presidency (Photo: Internet)

Hossam Khairallah is a former deputy director of intelligence for information. He comes from a long line of security officers: his father is Major-General Ahmed Hossam Khairallah, founder of Egypt’s Central Security Agency, former Cairo security director, former governor of Aswan, and former deputy prime minister.

Khairallah’s paternal grandfather was Commander Mohamed Hamed, the Giza police chief of who later became military governor of Beirut during World War II. Khairallah’s uncle, Kamal, was a member of Egypt’s Royal Police, accompanying King Farouk – Egypt’s last monarch – as part of the Royal Guard that departed Egypt with the king following the 1952 revolution.

Hossam Khairallah’s career has been marked by similar accomplishments in the field of national security. He served as an officer in the Egyptian Armed Forces until the mid-1970s, when he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Paramilitary Troops. He subsequently left the military to work at Egypt’s Intelligence Agency, where he eventually reached the position of information director with the rank of agency first deputy. In 2005, he retired with nearly 20 years of service under his belt.

Khairallah’s planned presidential bid will represent the first time for a current or former member of Egypt’s intelligence community to contest a top government post via free elections – although many have been appointed in the past to high-profile positions. These include Abdel Salam El-Mahgoub, who was appointed Alexandria governor and then minister of local development in 2006; and Mohamed El-No’mani, who was made local development minister 2011.

Khairallah touts himself as a patriot, based largely on his long tenure in the agency that served as the brain centre of Egypt’s ruling regime. The agency’s overriding mandate was to provide policymakers with accurate information on which to base their decisions.

One criticism that he has faced, however, is that he introduced himself to the public as a Lieutenant-General – the same rank held by ousted president Hosni Mubarak when was appointed vice-president by late president Anwar Al-Sadat in 1975.

This has become a point of contention among some of his former colleagues, who assert there is no such rank in the intelligence agency. According to one Egyptian general who insisted on anonymity, Egypt’s intelligence community has a different rank hierarchy than the military does, meaning that one leaves office with one’s last military rank. Former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, for example, left the army as a general.

The general also pointed to Khairallah’s extensive career, which, he believes, gives the would-be candidate a leg up on other contenders due to his close association with decision-making circles. “But this does not give him the right to claim that at any point he performed any personal acts of heroism,” said the general. “The work of the entire agency is a legacy of patriotic work by groups and teams – not individuals.”

Major-General Adel Suleiman, director of the Cairo-based Centre for Futuristic and Strategic Studies, says the last contact Khairallah had with the military was when he left the Paramilitary Troops as a Major. He was subsequently transferred to a civilian job in Egypt’s National Security Agency. “Mr. Khairallah is now a retired first deputy, and has the right – like any other citizen – to nominate himself for the presidency,” said Suleiman. “But he must meet certain criteria for the nomination in terms of popular support.”

Suleiman, however, takes issue with recent statements by Khairallah in which the latter claimed he was privy to “files” implicating certain officials in cases of official corruption. “Why didn’t he hand these files over to the judicial authorities?” Suleiman asked. “Now he wants to be president after failing to take a stand against corruption?”

Khairallah opposed the succession of power from Hosny Mubarak to his son Gamal, putting him at odds with his boss Omar Suleiman, one of the architect's of the project.

Major-General Sameh Seif El-Yazel, director of the Centre for Security and Strategic Studies and former deputy director of Intelligence, for his part, declined to comment on Khairallah’s planned bid for the presidency, merely noting that there were “concerns by the agency about Khairallah.”

Egyptian military expert Brigadier-General Safwat El-Zayyat was more forthright in his criticism.

“The Intelligence Agency is now in a state of damage control after the prosecutor-general last week accused the agency of failing to help ongoing investigations in the Mubarak trial,” El-Zayyat said. “The agency responded by stating that it was not an apparatus used for gathering information, even though it’s well known that intelligence had been involved in virtually all domestic issues during Omar Suleiman’s tenure and throughout the revolution, as has been confirmed by documented evidence.”

If the agency is on the defensive now, one wonders, could it be on the brink of another crisis over one of its former members seeking the presidency?

“Khairallah is currently capitalising on his professional network since it’s to be expected that he had forged links with various institutions, businessmen, the Coptic Church, Al-Azhar, the ministries of foreign affairs and interior, etc,” said El-Zayyat. “But can he admit this? Can he reveal the contents of files at an agency that is secret by nature in order to present himself to the electorate? I doubt it.”

He added: “Current conditions in Egypt would not allow anyone, even someone who once wore a military uniform, to win an election.”

El-Zayyat went on to ask: “Where was Khairallah during the revolution? Where are his documented positions on the revolution? Most presidential candidates were firmly behind the revolution, but Khairallah was unheard of.”

According to Major-General Adel Suleiman, executive authority must be handed over without delay to Egypt’s young generation, “who led the glorious revolution with their own creative will.”

“We’ve had enough of military rule, which no longer exists anywhere else in the world,” he added.

Initially, Khairallah’s nomination did not receive the support of any of Egypt’s post-revolution political forces. Spokesmen for the influential Muslim Brotherhood, for example, said the group would never back a military candidate for the presidency – even if he wore civilian garb.

Ahmed Sebie, spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, noted that Khairallah had not attempted to contact the party, nor did the party attempt to contact him. Other political forces and youth groups have voiced similar positions.

Notably, Khairallah’s Facebook page currently boasts only 5,000 members.

Saeed Okasha, a political expert at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that the average Egyptian was moved by Khairallah’s simple language when discussing the twin goals of security and stability as he appeals to their concerns and aspirations. Okasha argues that – contrary to assertions by some military experts – Khairallah can capitalise on his natural advantages in this regard.

Meanwhile, adds Okasha, no one has so far contradicted Khairallah’s assertions that he had differed with Omar Suleiman about showing Gamal Mubarak the political ropes. This, he points out, gives credence to Khaiallah's assertion that he stood against Suleiman on the issue of presidential succession from father to son.

According to Okasha, there is a perception that since Khairallah hails from the military he is therefore supported by segments of the military establishment, and that he is not supported by Egypt’s intelligence community. Still, one must bear in mind that Egypt’s ruling military council has not left the scene and is waiting – like everyone else – for the next president.

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