All aboard for Restructure and Reform: Egypt Is Going through a Period of Political Transition. While President Hosni Mubarak Is Sure to Be Returned to Power after the September Elections, the Dye Is Already Cast for Major Constitutional Reform
Darwish, Adel, The Middle East
EGYPT'S POLITICAL CLASSES HAVE historically been divided on every issue except two: Dislike of America's predilection for poking its nose into Egypt's internal affairs and a deep distrust of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, they say, should not be 'licenced' as a political party.
You get the same message whether you speak to Prime Minister Dr Ahmed Nazif (his family name means spotless in a country that has been urging the government to clean up its act for decades), opposition leaders, independent analysts or taxi drivers.
In May, Hosni Mubarak, president for 24 years, initiated a proposal to amend the constitution, allowing Egyptians to choose their head of state, for the first time in 7,000 years, by direct election from among more than one candidate (see TME June 2005).
The move surprised many and deepened political divisions. Public opinion has been polarised between a movement saying "Kefayah" (Arabic for Enough) to the president standing for a fifth term in office, and his supporters, known as the 'Continuity movement'.
Observers say no-one, including his own ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), expected Mubarak's move. The constitutional amendment was approved by 83% of voters in a referendum, with 54% turnout, a figure disputed by opposition groups who boycotted the event after initially welcoming the amendment. They now say the amendment was 'tailored' by the NDP to maintain a lock on power, while paving the way for the president's younger son, Gamal Mubarak to assume the presidency in 2011, with greater legitimacy.
However, the 42-year-old, British-educated, former banker repeated assertions that he was not seeking higher office to a group of journalists (including myself) at the Cairo Air Force Club in mid-June. "This fallacy should be put to rest, I have no ambitions to become the next president," Gamal stated emphatically.
Two days later, parliament made "doing national military service" a condition for any candidate for the presidency, while barring candidates with dual nationality; the two conditions put an end to the younger Mubarak's ambition, if indeed he had any.
Many (including some western diplomats) think he has many qualities which make him suitable to run for higher office, "but being the President's son acts against him," said prominent journalist and writer Emad Adeeb.
Gamal Mubarak raised his profile by championing reforms within the NDP, which he joined in 2000. Two years later he became head of its Political Committee, already filled with western-educated reformers. His rising influence was confirmed when a group of reformists close to him were appointed to the Cabinet last year to lead a programme of economic restructuring.
"Young Mubarak provides a good chance for reform," said Osama Sariya, editor of Al-Ahram el-Arabi, "but his only option of establishing a successful political career, is to ensure a successful reform momentum,
When posters appeared on the streets calling for President Mubarak to run for a fifth term were taken down, two weeks ago, it was widely interpreted as a signal that he will stand, although officials repeatedly say Mr Mubarak has not yet made up his mind.
With little chance of any political figure to threaten Mubarak's clear majority, sources told TME that even while the announcement was being made as the President was agonising over the choice of a vice-president (an office that has remained vacant since 1980); the position has had a history of becoming the successor to the presidency since the 1952 military coup.
Some analysts suggested that 69-year-old Omar Sulaiman, the powerful intelligence chief (and mediator for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis), would be the best choice and would have the support of the military, the power behind the throne in Egypt for over half a century.
Last month, sources close to the Presidential palace told TME his boss was waiting for the country's constitutional court approving a new electoral law, to announce his stand. …