Mubarak hopes to stay on for life

President Hosni Mubarak indicated to Egypt’s parliament on Sunday that he hopes to stay in office for the rest of his life, presiding over gradual political change.

In a speech marking the opening of parliament, he asked members to consider what he termed the “widest range of constitutional amendments since 1980”.

These would make it easier for officially sanctioned opposition parties to contest the presidency, he said, and would strengthen the powers of parliament and the cabinet.

But Mr Mubarak hinted only in vague terms at a possible end to emergency laws.

The laws, which he promised to scrap last year, were originally designed to counter militant Islamists, but have also been used to prevent legal opposition parties from gaining a public following throughout Mr Mubarak’s 25-year rule.

Analysts said the president’s speech appeared designed partly to quash growing speculation in Cairo of a plan to slip Gamal Mubarak, his 42-year-old son, in as successor some time ahead of scheduled presidential elections in 2011.

The older Mr Mubarak, who is 78, said he would continue “the path of transition to the future, bearing the responsibility and burdens of it, as long as I draw breath and there is a heart in my chest that beats.”

Gamal Mubarak denies harbouring presidential ambitions, but pro-democracy activists in Egypt have gained some traction among the public by opposing what they believe is a conspiracy in the making.

Under present conditions, the ruling National Democratic party (NDP) could put the younger Mr Mubarak forward as a presidential candidate unopposed.

None of the legal opposition parties hold the required 5 per cent of seats in parliament to qualify.

The planned constitutional amendments would allow at least a show of contest.

However, members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, the only credible opposition threat to the regime, are not expecting to gain from the changes.

The Brotherhood has faced a renewed crackdown since winning 88 seats in parliament last year through affiliated independents.

Officials from the NDP have hinted that forthcoming reforms to the electoral system will make it harder for independents to win as many seats in future elections.

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