CAIRO: The recent promotion of 42-year-old Gamal Mubarak to Assistant Secretary-General of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has once again triggered questions concerning his ultimate political ambitions.
Has Hosni Mubarak s youngest son been secretly anointed to run as the NDP s favored candidate for President in the 2011 elections and, if so, how would the nation react?
Any attempts to impose a dynastic succession on the Egyptian people would be certain to backfire and, indeed, the President has consistently ruled this out.
Opposition groups have been particularly vocal on the subject, especially the Kefaya movement, which last year organized street protests against hereditary power.
Indeed, there are many regional precedents, not least Bashar Al-Assad, a mild-mannered eye doctor who had his father s mantle thrust upon him due to the premature death of his popular brother Basil. Today, he is perceived as being hidebound by his father s old guard when it comes to the many reforms he once promised to implement and responsible for fractures within the Ba ath Party. The Libyan succession is likely to be similarly fraught.
During an interview published in the Egyptian daily Roz Al-Yusef last month, the younger Mubarak attempted to quash the controversy, saying, I neither have the intention nor the desire to be a candidate. My words are very clear. This was perceived as the most definitive statement on the issue to date, but many Egyptians still aren t buying it. Why is this?
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif appears to be singing a different tune. He told the Associated Press that Gamal Mubarak is well qualified to lead the country and deserves to be judged on his own merits, although he did admit that Gamal s parenthood stands as an obstacle.
When asked about Gamal s future during an interview with BusinessWeek, Nazif went on the defensive: You want him to say he s not going to run forever? Is that what we should do to Gamal? I don t think so.
The reluctance of the 77-year-old leader to appoint a Vice-President stands as another bone of contention for those who believe there may be a plan to slip Gamal into office via the backdoor.
This issue came to the fore in September 2003 after the President appeared ill during an address to parliamentarians and had to leave the podium for 45-minutes, returning briefly to a standing ovation.
It was later announced that the President had been suffering the after effects of a bout of influenza, but not before the Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohammed Sayed Al-Tantawi and head of the Coptic church Pope Shenouda had prayed for Mubarak s longevity, when Egyptians began asking who would run the government if their leader was seriously indisposed. It s a good question.
According to the Egyptian constitution, the Speaker of the People s Assembly, who is currently Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, would take over during 60 day interim period before a new election is called. In that event, the NDP and opposition parties would have to produce credible contenders, and there is no reason to suppose that Gamal Mubarak s name wouldn t feature at the top of the list.
A line from Shakespeare s Romeo and Juliet reads a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but let s face it, Gamal s candidacy would be a lot sweeter as far as the public is concerned if he ran with a different name.
Being Hosni Mubarak s son is both a blessing and a curse for Gamal s career. There is no doubt his illustrious antecedents provided a giant push up the ladder, but those same antecedents are now holding him back, perhaps, in the same way that Sisyphus, the legendary founder of Corinth, was destined to roll a giant stone up a hill only to see it roll down again.
If we remove the emotion surrounding a possible Gamal Mubarak candidacy for a moment, we must admit that Ahmed Nazif is right. Gamal is eminently qualified for the top job, especially at a time when businessmen, economists and technocrats are given precedence over veteran soldiers as leaders best equipped to cope with the demands of globalization.
A graduate of the American University in Cairo, Gamal went on to become an investment banker with the Bank of America before branching out on his own to set up the private equity fund Medinvest Associates.
In 2002, Gamal was put in charge of the NDP s powerful political policy secretariat, referred to by Safwat Al-Sharif as the beating heart of the party and the instrument for new thinking.
Certainly, Gamal is said to be responsible for a positive shake-up of the party and to have been instrumental on advising on ministerial appointments, many of which have recently been filled by talented business people eager to open up the economy and attract foreign investment. Some are even dubbing the new cabinet as Gamal s.
The influential Fortune Magazine has described Gamal as a reformer with a worldly outlook and has tipped him as a president in waiting. Such premature predictions hardly do Gamal any favors at home.
While it s true that he has managed to impress many who walk through the corridors of power in Washington as well as the Western media, he has yet to connect with the Egyptian street. Indeed, he is seen as a rather distant figure remaining fairly inaccessible to the local media.
Although prior to last year s ballot he did make a serious effort to connect with grassroots party members and repackage himself as a man of the people , only to retreat in the face of comments he made concerning election gains achieved by Muslim Brotherhood independents due to the illegal exploitation of religion .
His suggestion that the law might need to be amended to prevent this type of infringement elicited criticism from opposition groups that his liberal political agenda mightn t be liberal after all.
On the surface, Gamal Mubarak stands on a reformist platform. He is keen to see Egypt a main player in the global economy, and wants to cut down on public sector red tape, encourage foreign investment, expand trade and create jobs.
On the civil liberties and human rights front, Gamal s goals are noble. Here, he wants to eradicate emergency law, abolish hard labor for prisoners and set-up a new human rights organization.
When it comes to foreign policy, Gamal courts an amicable relationship with the U.S., but came out strongly against the invasion of Iraq and has affirmed his support for the Palestinian people and a two-state solution.
Back to the question of whether Gamal can succeed his father? If emergency laws were lifted, the media unfettered, the judiciary seen to be completely independent of government influence and the baltagia (thugs), who regularly intimidate voters at the ballot box dealt with, then Gamal Mubarak could stand with confidence and compete on an even footing.
If not, then the specter of public suspicion that he s long been groomed to fill his father s shoes will forever hang over his shoulder. And no matter how talented or capable he is, he will always be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as little more than his father s privileged son.