Briefing: Who Will Run Egypt after Hosni Mubarak?

Article excerpt

Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak has been in office for 28 years. With a 2011 election looming, many say his son Gamal is being groomed for an uncontested handover despite his unpopularity.

On the streets of Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak is jokingly referred to as Egypt's "last pharaoh." He has held the Egyptian presidency for 28 years and has yet to name a successor. But with the presidential election scheduled for September 2011, the country is abuzz with talk of who will replace the aging leader. That is, assuming Mr. Mubarak chooses not to run.

Egypt's elections are neither free nor fair, and experts agree that just as in ancient Egypt, a dynastic transition is likely. This year, not 2011, will effectively be when Egypt's next president is decided, because any contender would have to start soon to have chance.

Who's the front-runner?

Gamal Mubarak is Hosni Mubarak's youngest son and is widely tipped to replace his father. Gamal worked as an investment banker in London before returning to Egypt to enter politics. In 2002, he was named to the policy secretariat of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Widely credited with introducing a series of economic reforms and liberalizations, he has strong ties with Egypt's business elite. Despite being unpopular with the citizenry, Gamal has assumed an increasingly public role and the state- controlled media frequently features photos of Gamal.

Who are the potential challengers?

There are few people who could legally stand against Gamal Mubarak, due to candidacy requirements set by constitutional amendments in 2005 and 2007. But with elites throwing their hats in the ring, rumors are flying about who could mount a challenge to the Mubarak family agenda.

Mohamed ElBaradei is a name that keeps cropping up: In December, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 2005 Nobel Prize winner announced he would run for president given guarantees of a free election. When he flew into Cairo on Feb. 19, hundreds of supporters greeted him, some holding signs that read: "Yes: ElBaradei President of Egypt."

But he has set conditions for considering a candidacy that haven't existed in an Egyptian election since the 1950s. His goal does not seem to be to become Egypt's president, but rather to bring democratic reform to the political system. In any case, it does not seem likely he will receive the constitutionally mandated endorsements or win enough of Mubarak's supporters to his side.

"If we're looking at potentials for elite conflict or elite defection, we just don't see it," says Joshua Stacher, a political scientist at Kent State University. "ElBaradei came out and said 'I'll run for president,' I didn't see a single person ... come out and say, 'That's a good idea, I'm with Baradei.'"

Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief, hasn't announced interest in the post, but is assumed to be the powerful military establishment's man. All three presidents since the overthrow of the monarchy have been members of the military. If the military ultimately wavers over Gamal Mubarak's civilian background, Mr. Suleiman may emerge as a contender.

What obstacles face the Mubarak family as they try to engineer a power handover?

Gamal Mubarak's unpopularity is his Achilles' heel. The regime has tried to craft a "man of the people" persona for him by sending him to Egyptian soccer matches and flashing photographs of him with the national team in the state media. …

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