Analysis: Egypt faces new dynastic struggle

Analysis: Egypt faces new dynastic struggle

followed a powerful predecessor to the Egyptian throne, made historic changes with the backing of his generals – and died before coming of age.

And more than 3,000 years later, as an exhibition of King Tut’s ancient treasures arrives in Toronto, a new dynastic drama is being played out in the modern-day nation.

Eighty-one-year-old President Hosni Mubarak, a former military strongman who has ruled Egypt for 28 years, has been clearing the way for a successor predicted to be his son Gamal, when Mubarak’s latest term ends in 2011.

The secrecy and interlocking interests of the ruling elite have much in common with the pharaoh’s court. Constitutional changes have thrown up roadblocks to genuine political opposition, keeping dissenting candidates from winning the country’s top office in a freely-fought election.

“Millions of Egyptians have opinions on the leadership,” says Bruce Rutherford of Colgate University, author of Egypt After Mubarak. “Only one voice counts – Hosni Mubarak’s.”

Gamal Mubarak, 45, a telegenic investment banker who has worked in Cairo and London, has climbed his way to a leading role in the ruling National Democratic Party, formed a “policy secretariat” of liberal economists to advise the government, and stacked the party with modernizing supporters.

Neither father nor son admit that young Mubarak is being groomed for the presidency, But, Gamal recently told Middle East Quarterly, “when I went into politics seven years ago, I wanted to prove that I was able to participate in the reform process.”

The public is not so easily persuaded. Pointing to his plan to raise living standards for Egypt’s 81 million people, Gamal argues that a doubling of exports, creation of 800,000 new jobs and the current growth rate of more than 7 per cent are visible signs of success.

But the economic downturn has worked against him, and the spiking price of food has sent inflation to nearly 13 per cent, sharpening the pain of the poorest.

Hosni Mubarak’s reluctance to back him publicly as his heir – and the aging leader’s lengthy term in office – have also sucked the oxygen out of his political ambitions, and won him the title “Egypt’s Prince Charles.”

Meanwhile, rumours circulate that if Mubarak sees insufficient strength in his son’s political hand, he could stay in the game even longer. At 83, he would try for another six-year term, ending short of his 90th birthday.

“Mubarak could run again,” agrees Amr Hamzawy, an authority on Egyptian politics and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut. “There are still powerful parts of the ruling establishment backing that scenario, especially the military and the security services.”

While analysts ponder which of the two outcomes is more likely, few are predicting an upset win for any dark horse candidate.

Although UN atomic energy chief watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei’s name crops up, along with that of Arab League head Amr Moussa, they would need endorsement from the president to enter the race. Liberal opposition politician Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in the last election and wound up in jail on electoral fraud charges, might also be allowed to run again to legitimize the tightly controlled election process.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed since 1954, has no chance of entering the presidential race. The constitutional changes have also made it more difficult for government opponents to run for parliament as independents. And a crackdown on the media has limited debate.

On the street, however, sporadic demonstrations voice protest against a dynastic succession that would ease Gamal into power, and opposition, while subdued, is not dead. In a free parliamentary election, analysts estimate, the Muslim Brotherhood could take up to one-third of the votes.

For now, the rules of Western-style democracy do not apply. As in the days of Tut, the succession is a matter for closed-door bargaining. But, says Hamzawy, that doesn’t mean Gamal Mubarak would win the adulation enjoyed by the boy pharaoh – who was worshipped as divine – along with the vote.

“Egypt has been ruled by strong leaders for many years and they’ve had clear popular approval. Egypt’s economy is headed for tough times. Gamal would start with a legitimacy deficit that would make it more difficult for him to rule.”

The Source