Re-introducing Gamal Mubarak
Questions about the political future of president Mubarak's son resurfaced this week after a live prime-time television interview, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
"I am neither seeking, nor do I wish, to nominate myself," said Gamal Mubarak about halfway through what was dubbed his "first-ever live interview on prime time TV" Monday night. The interviewer had just asked him the question everyone was waiting for: "Do you still have no intentions of running for president?"
Speculation about President Hosni Mubarak's younger son's political ambitions -- ongoing for the last four years -- peaked last week with the publication of an interview with veteran journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in the independent Al-Dostour. Heikal said that informed sources told him of a plan to catalyse Gamal's "inheritance" of the presidency from his father sometime this year. According to Heikal -- a close confidante of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and an analyst whose political observations continue to resonate -- Mubarak wants to ensure that the son is in power during the father's lifetime. "This is why efforts are being intensified," Heikal said.
The veteran journalist's prominence is such that many interpreted Gamal's TV interview as a direct and immediate response to these allegations. The goal, these observers say, was to convince the general public that there was no truth to the succession claims.
That task, however, may be difficult considering a string of recent Gamal-related events.
In early February, Gamal was promoted to the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) assistant secretary-general post, which he now holds in addition to heading the party's Policies Committee, probably the most important organ within the NDP. A few weeks ago, there was also a major media hubbub about the president's son's engagement to the daughter of a construction magnate; again, this move was interpreted as a basic step towards meeting a public expectation that any future president be married.
The day before the interview, Gamal -- in his capacity as board chairman of the Future Generation Foundation -- opened a social rehabilitation project in Cairo's Agouza district, which generated a great deal of publicity in the state- affiliated media, much of which portrayed him as a "man of the people". He was photographed shaking hands with ordinary citizens and inquiring about their concerns, in unambiguous contrast to continuing comments about his being out of touch with the masses.
Moreover, opposition forces believe the NDP's refusal to re-amend constitutional Article 76 provides additional evidence that plans are really underway to clear the path for Gamal's rise to power. One of the key opposition accusations is that last year's amendment of Article 76 to allow multi-candidate presidential elections was actually tailored specifically to exclude any possible competitors to Gamal Mubarak. This point was also addressed in Monday's TV interview. "Those who say that the NDP rejects re- amending Article 76 should understand that more constitutional amendments are still in the pipeline," Gamal said. He suggested that work was already underway in parliament to amend Articles 74 and 77, which give the president sweeping powers to stand against any national security threats, and allow an indefinite number of presidential terms.
Other factors have also lent credence to the "inheritance" scenario: the fact that several of Gamal's close associates have recently been promoted to key NDP positions, replacing some of his old guard rivals; and the delaying of local council elections, which fed speculation that this was a deliberate move to prevent any forces -- especially the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood -- from achieving electoral gains that might disrupt Gamal's political plans.
On Monday, Gamal told his TV interviewer Lamees El-Hadidi -- a journalist who had worked on his father's presidential re-election campaign last year -- that "what I have said [about not wanting to run for president] is as clear as daylight."
Many, like Hussein Abdel-Razek, secretary- general of the leftist Tagammu Party, do not take stock in Gamal's denials. "The problem," Abdel-Razek told Al-Ahram Weekly, "is that President Mubarak and his son always say something, and then do the opposite." Last month, Abdel-Razek said, the younger Mubarak told Rose El-Youssef newspaper that he had no wish to be a president. "However, after a very short period of time, he was promoted to a higher NDP position that made him the party's second man. Doesn't this indicate that inheritance plans are moving forward by leaps and bounds?"
A top NDP official denied this theory, arguing that, "even if Gamal has become the NDP's second man, this does not mean that he will inherit the presidency." Mohamed Ragab, the NDP's Shura Council spokesman, said that Gamal's continued emphasis on not wanting to nominate himself should be taken at face value.
But "if the older and younger Mubaraks are really honest about dismissing inheritance claims," asks George Isaac, coordinator of the pro-reform Kefaya (Enough) movement, "then why has President Mubarak continued to refuse to appoint a vice-president?"
The president's motivation for not choosing a successor were recently outlined by his main advisor Osama El-Baz, who told Reuters early this month that Mubarak would welcome retirement, if he could only find a replacement. Interpreting these comments in his Al-Dostour interview, Heikal said, "Mubarak will never welcome retirement, and so he will never find a successor." He then suggested that various political forces with established interests are now doing their best to push Gamal Mubarak forward on this path.
While the TV interview did not directly mention Heikal's claims, an article in Rose El-Youssef magazine took the veteran analyst to task. The magazine's editor-in-chief called Heikal a "trickster" who was "playing with words to keep himself in the limelight."
During the TV interview, Mubarak also responded to accusations that he had benefited financially from major fluctuations that took place on the Cairo stock exchange two weeks ago, as a result of his position on the board of directors of major investment bank EFG-Hermes. Gamal admitted to being on the company's board, but said his work was focused on one of the company's subsidiaries, which has no activity on the Egyptian stock exchange.