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EGYPT: Presidency Closer Now to Inheritance
EGYPT: Presidency Closer Now to Inheritance
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) concluded its ninth general congress earlier this month. Leading members articulated party policies and objectives. The event also saw a restructuring of the party’s highest governing bodies, which critics saw as another step by Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak, towards presidentia
Tuesday, November 20,2007 03:37
by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani IkhwanWeb

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) concluded its ninth general congress earlier this month. Leading members articulated party policies and objectives. The event also saw a restructuring of the party"s highest governing bodies, which critics saw as another step by Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak, towards presidential succession.

"These changes to the party"s structure represent the completion of a gradual process aimed at the inheritance of the presidency from father to son," Abdel-Halim Kandil, former editor-in-chief of opposition weekly al-Karama told IPS.

The agenda of the congress Nov. 3-6 was topped by economic issues and the party"s stated concern for the poorest segments of the population. In response to rising popular discontent with the state of the local economy, party leaders vowed to substantially reduce poverty and drastically improve basic services in the coming five years.

In an opening speech, President Mubarak -- who was re-elected as NDP chairman on the first day of the event -- stressed the party"s commitment to providing an "umbrella of social protection to the poor." He went on to say that party priorities included improvement of vital public services, particularly education, healthcare, housing and transport.

The sentiment was echoed by the 44-year-old Gamal Mubarak, chairman of the NDP"s highly influential Policies Committee. Calling the problems faced by the nation"s poor a "top priority", he also emphasised the party"s efforts to create job opportunities and improve the education and healthcare systems.

More significant than the NDP"s policy statements, however, were the significant changes made to the party"s uppermost management structure.

At the congress, party leaders announced the establishment of a 50-strong Higher Council, which would include members of both the party"s secretariat- general and its politburo. According to constitutional articles governing the electoral process, the party"s candidate for president must be selected from within this council.

Opposition figures are quick to point out that the move would allow Gamal Mubarak -- a member of the secretariat-general but not the politburo -- to stand for president in the next election, scheduled for 2011.

Ever since he was appointed head of the Policies Committee in 2002, speculation has swirled around Gamal"s political ambitions. Under his leadership, the committee, which includes a number of prominent businessmen, has been extremely influential in setting the ruling party"s political agenda.

The influence of Gamal and his circle of pro-business associates also extends to the cabinet. In 2004, a major ministerial reshuffle saw several economic portfolios go to figures close to the younger Mubarak, including the finance, trade and investment ministries.

In contrast to the party"s older cadres, Gamal"s faction of relatively young self-styled reformers has led the charge towards economic liberalisation. Despite considerable public opposition, its members have consistently called for privatisation of state assets and the opening of the country to foreign investment.

In terms of foreign policy, the Gamal Mubarak faction is also known for its closeness to the U.S., Cairo"s long-time patron. Gamal and his pro- investment associates in the cabinet make regular trips to Washington for closed-door consultations with high-ranking U.S. officials.

Gamal is himself an investment banker by profession. After receiving a Masters degree in business administration from the American University in Cairo, he worked in London for the Bank of America for almost ten years before returning to Egypt to enter politics.

Despite the claims of opposition figures, the younger Mubarak insisted that the Higher Council was not established to abet his presidential candidacy. The structural changes, he told reporters on the second day of the congress, "had been on the cards for a long time."

Until now, Gamal Mubarak had consistently stressed he had "neither the intention nor the desire" to run for the highest office. "I have no aspirations for an executive position of this kind," he said on Egyptian satellite television in May.

In a notable departure from previous statements, however, he did not explicitly deny the possibility of a future presidential run when speaking at the recent party congress.

"I am now in charge of the party"s policies," he was quoted as saying. "This is my mission and my mandate. This is what I am focused on now." He went on to stress the need to follow "clear, constitutional steps."

Amendments were made earlier in March to the constitutional regulations governing presidential elections. According to opposition critics, the changes cemented the ruling party"s grip on power by hindering the nomination of independent candidates and negating judicial oversight of elections.

"All of these factors together guarantee that the Mubaraks will go unopposed in the coming presidential contest," said Kandil. "No other candidate will stand a chance."

He went on to note that Gamal Mubarak"s recent silence vis-à-vis his presidential ambitions "strongly suggests that the inheritance project is approaching its final stages."

If he did succeed to the presidency, Gamal would become Egypt"s first civilian head of state in the country"s history. Since Egypt"s revolution in 1952, all presidents -- including the current one -- have been drawn exclusively from the armed forces.

According to Kandil, the change is indicative of the military"s diminished influence over the executive office.

"The recent amendments and party restructuring will effectively prevent the army from fielding a presidential candidate from within its own ranks," he said, noting that the Higher Council did not include representatives of the armed forces. "There is some resentment in the army about the marginalisation of its role."

Kandil went on to predict that the ruling party would ultimately fail in its perceived endeavours to elevate Gamal Mubarak to the highest office, given the anticipated opposition to such a move.

"Even if they succeed in making him president, he wouldn"t stay president for long," Kandil said. "After a very short time, his policies of unbridled economic liberalisation would lead to unbearable consequences for the entire country." (END/2007)

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