Egypt president’s son Gamal edges towards power

Egypt president’s son Gamal edges towards power

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has left open the question of his successor even as his son Gamal”s progress towards inheriting power edged forward at the ruling party”s national congress.

The 79-year-old president was loudly applauded on Tuesday as he made a speech to mark the end of the National Democratic Party”s (NDP) congress, at the start of which he was re-elected party chief by 99 percent of delegates” votes.

“Social justice is an essential pillar of our general policy,” Mubarak told the congress in Cairo, with the country caught in a wave of strikes brought on by an economic boom perceived as only benefiting the establishment elite.

But Mubarak, who has headed the country for 26 years and appears to be in good health, declined to say anything about what might happen in the event of his departure from office.

“Mubarak has already said that he will stay in power until his last breath, which is possible, but the dynastic scenario is continuing,” says Mustafa Kamal al-Said, political analyst at the American University in Cairo.

“The regime thinks it is creating a false suspense, but the people already know how it”s going to end, with a family transition” from Mubarak to his son.

Despite some predictions, his youngest son Gamal, a 43-year-old former investment banker, did not take over as NDP secretary general from party stalwart Safwat al-Sharif, who was personally renamed to the post by Mubarak.

Instead, NDP members voted on Saturday to create a “higher committee” widely perceived as putting Gamal a step closer to the presidency.

The body will nominate the party”s next presidential candidate and incorporates the influential policies secretariat which Gamal heads.

Without the committee, the NDP could only have put President Mubarak forward for the next presidential election in 2011.

On Monday, Gamal deflected a renewed spate of questioning as to whether he would eventually take over the reins of power, telling journalists he was focused solely on parliamentary polls in three years time.

“I”m trying to be creative, I”ll refer you to my previous responses,” he said. “I”m focused, I have a mandate, I have a responsibility and we have a target which is the election in 2010.”

Hosni Mubarak has always denied any ambition to start a presidential dynasty like in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.

But Gamal”s meteoric rise through NDP ranks since his entry into politics in 1995 has prompted allegations by the opposition that he is being prepared for succession.

This year”s conference focused on social issues amid growing concern that the liberal reforms championed by the Western-leaning regime have done little to address the needs of the 44 percent of Egyptians who live on less than two dollars a day.

Gamal Mubarak himself, who has been at the vanguard of Egypt”s economic liberalisation that has seen a consistent growth rate of seven percent in recent years, sought to reassure delegates that the benefits would eventually trickle down to the poor.

“The party stresses its commitment to social development highlighting the principle of social justice,” he said in an opening speech.

Finance Minister Yusef Boutros-Ghali said that “the problem is that while the rich get richer, the poor do not become less poor as quickly.”

For Egypt”s independent and opposition press, targeted in recent months by a series of pro-regime court cases, the NDP congress was a stage-managed performance that failed to take into account the country”s reality.

“God has answered our prayers by re-electing President Mubarak at the head of the NDP, quashing the people”s main fear,” scoffed the Al-Dustur daily.

But for Mohammed Kamal, a confidant of Gamal”s, “Egypt is having contractions, it”s awaiting a newborn whose face is still unclear. It won”t last long, I can feel a will for reform and change”.