Egypt’s ruling party amends bylaws, opening possible path for succession
|Sunday, November 4,2007 07:26|
Egypt"s ruling party changed its bylaws Saturday in a move many think further paves the way for President Hosni Mubarak"s son to legally succeed him.
Analysts say the move provides the National Democratic Party with constitutional cover to elevate Gamal Mubarak to power, a subtle way to counter the growing challenge by the opposition.
Both father and son have denied the succession rumors, but many in the country dismiss their statements and point to a recent crackdown against the media as a tactic to intimidate possible critics of the transition.
Saturday"s amendment, passed during the opening day of the party"s ninth general convention, created an overarching party committee that will choose a presidential candidate from its 50 members, one of whom is Gamal.
The NDP is using this constitutional rearrangement for their political ends to serve Gamal," said Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based expert on Egyptian politics.
The Supreme Committee was formed from two pre-existing bodies, the General Secretariat, of which Gamal was a member, and the smaller Politburo.
Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the NDP had two specific goals in mind when merging the two groups.
"First: to empower Gamal and his group, who by their sheer numbers will be the majority in the new unified body and will have greater significance with regard to decision making process in the NDP," said Hamzawy.
Secondly, this will give Gamal a better chance to position his loyal group within the General Secretariat into leading party positions, he added.
Before the constitutional amendments in the spring, the presidential candidate had to be head of the party and head of the party"s Political Bureau, which was one of the highest ranking bodies at the time.
The constitution was changed to require the candidate be chosen among the members of what was called the Supreme Committee, which did not exist in the NDP structure.
Saturday"s formation of the Supreme Committee from a group that contained Gamal could be seen as an easier way to set him up as a presidential candidate than renaming the Political Bureau and appointing him to that body.
However, Mohammed Ragab, the NDP"s majority leader in the Parliament, told The Associated Press that the creation of the Supreme Committee was a mere technicality required by the recent constitutional amendments.
Ali el-Din Helal, senior party official, made a similar argument last month at a briefing with foreign media, saying, "The issue of succession is regulated by the Constitution."
"This is a country ruled by institutions, not by individuals," he added.
Gamal has risen dramatically in the ranks of the party since the NDP"s last convention in 2002 and is now number two in the party and head of the powerful policy making committee.
Three years ago, there were angry protests against succession. Recently, demonstrations have waned, but talk of succession picked up over the summer following rumors that Mubarak was ill.
Mubarak and his ruling party struck back — sending a prominent independent newspaper chief to trial over articles he ran questioning Mubarak"s health. The move was latest in a string of trials of editors and journalists that appears aimed at intimidating those who could oppose a transfer of power to Gamal.
Mubarak, who has lead Egypt since 1981, was re-elected as the leader of the NDP, as expected, during the opening session of Saturday"s convention.
The 79-year-old president said employment, investment and national security would top the agenda during his ruling party"s convention, but carefully avoided any talk of succession.
Even if party members avoid the sensitive succession topic, discussion of Egypt"s economy could prove controversial.
While the World Bank ranked Egypt as the world"s most improved economy for investors this year, and the country has seen an average growth rate of 7 percent over the last three years — the poor increasingly feel squeezed out. Their frustration could pose an even greater threat to stability than the government"s traditional political rivals like the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recent months, government has been trying to rein in the largest spate of labor unrest the country has seen in decades. About a month ago, the government rushed into resolve a strike of 27,000 workers at a factory in the Nile Delta.
"The rich get richer and the poor get less poor but not as fast," Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali acknowledged recently.
But economist Ahmed Sayyed el-Naggar said he doubted the government would find a solution to the widespread poverty.
Whether the 7.2 percent economic growth is right or forged, which I don"t believe is true, (it) doesn"t mean anything to the average citizen whose living standard has deteriorated and high prices are suffocating him and making life unbearable,