Gen. Omar Suleiman, who spent much of his career in the shadow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, emerged in recent weeks as the man most likely to oversee a transition toward political reform in Egypt.
However, he is an unpalatable choice for the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who have gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square since Jan. 25 and demanded the ouster of the Mubarak regime.
Tom Malinowksi, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said the anti-government protesters see Gen. Suleiman as "a creature of Mubarak."
"For the process to be credible, it has to be much more inclusive, and decisions need to be made through negotiation rather than dictated by Suleiman," he added.
Mr. Mubarak appointed Gen. Suleiman vice president on Jan. 29, after the anti-government protests erupted. The post had been vacant for almost 30 years.
In 1993, Gen. Suleiman, 74, was appointed head of the Mukhabarat, or General Intelligence Directorate, which human rights groups say is responsible for widespread abuse and torture.
Gen. Suleiman has been responsible for dealing with foreign intelligence services, including the CIA and Israel's Mossad.
He played a central role in the CIA's rendition program for terrorist suspects.
Gen. Suleiman has been the "liaison for rendering people illegally and unlawfully in Egyptian prisons, where we have every reason to think they have been badly tortured," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, in a phone interview from Cairo.
"We are talking about a guy, Omar Suleiman, who has been complicit up to his eyeballs in this stuff," said Mr. Stork.
In an incident that underlined Gen. Suleiman's brutal streak, he once offered to chop off a prisoner's arm and send it to the U.S. so that a DNA match could be made, according to author Ron Suskind, who wrote extensively about Gen. Suleiman in his book, "The One Percent Doctrine."
Gen. Suleiman's thinly veiled abhorrence for Egypt's Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is likely to influence his decisions as head of any transition process.
Some analysts say it is very unlikely that Gen. Suleiman will remain on the political stage in Egypt beyond the elections scheduled for September.
"Suleiman is too old and too closely associated with Mubarak and the intelligence establishment," said Thomas W. Lippman, an adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Gen. Suleiman's close relationship with the CIA was revealed in U.S. Embassy cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
"Our intelligence collaboration with Oman Soliman is now probably the most successful element of the [U.S.-Egypt] relationship," said a 2006 cable, which used an alternate spelling of his name.
U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey described Gen. Suleiman as a "pragmatist with an extremely sharp analytical mind."
However, in a conference call with reporters this week, senior Obama administration officials declined to endorse Gen. Suleiman.
"I think it's important to be clear that the United States has never gone out and said Vice President Suleiman is the right person or passed any judgment on who should be in charge with respect to the government in terms of leading this transition process," said Jake Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and director of policy planning.
Obama administration officials have said they would like to see concrete and irreversible changes take place in Egypt.
"The test will be whether those changes are made or not. ... Our question is not who's leading it, but rather what the outcome is," Mr. Sullivan said.
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