A poster war has erupted on Cairo's streets between the supporters of President Hosni Mubarak's younger son Gamal, and of ex-IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
Click to view caption|
A man sits outside a cafe as posters of Gamal Mubarak, are seen on the wall above in downtown Cairo
The face of Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak and chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) influential Policies Committee, has appeared on posters in the streets of central Cairo districts such as Gammaliya, Moski, Bab Al-She'riya, Sayeda Aisha and Qalaa, urging people to support a presidential bid in 2011. The posters, featuring a portrait of the 47-year- old and bearing the words "yes to Gamal Mubarak for president", are part of a campaign promoted by the Popular Coalition for the Support of Gamal Mubarak (PCSGM).
PCSGM's coordinator, Magdi El-Kordi, says "the campaign is an initiative from a group of young people who believe that 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak should step down next year to make room for his son to stand in the presidential election".
"Our campaign is a direct response to ex-IAEA's chief Mohamed El-Baradei's attempt to collect signatures from citizens in support of amending the constitution to allow independents to run in presidential elections. We view the return of El-Baradei and the formation of the National Assembly for Change [NAC], which lacks a clear political agenda, as a serious development."
El-Kordi, 54, was a member of the leftist Tagammu Party until he was expelled for his support of Gamal Mubarak.
"I was deeply impressed by Gamal Mubarak's visits to slum areas in Cairo and Giza and to poor villages, and by his support of the middle and working classes to which I, and millions of other Egyptians belong," says El-Kordi. "So much so that I decided to start a movement that would advocate his candidacy for the post of president."
El-Kordi stresses that the campaign is not endorsed by Gamal Mubarak, who has not been contacted over the posters.
"I will not contact him until the coalition has rallied mass support for his nomination in next year's election."
El-Kordi claims that the poster campaign has encouraged 4,000 young Egyptians to join his movement in just two days.
The pro-Gamal campaign will not be confined to street posters but will extend to cyberspace.
"We hope that when we take this campaign to popular websites like Facebook we will generate even more support. We also plan to tour a number of governorates to promote Gamal Mubarak," says El-Kordi.
Alieddin Hilal, NDP secretary for media affairs, confirms that party officials have nothing to do with the campaign.
"It is an initiative by a group of youth and does not represent the NDP's official position on fielding a presidential candidate," Hilal said.
Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs and the NDP's assistant secretary-general insists that "the ruling NDP will name its official presidential candidate three months before the election, in July 2011". The candidate must be chosen from the NDP's Higher Council, which has 45 members.
"President Mubarak is the NDP's preferred choice for president in 2011 and no NDP member is authorised to announce that he will be standing in the elections until President Hosni Mubarak gives his final say about the issue," says NDP Secretary- General Safwat El-Sherif.
President Mubarak, El-Sherif continued, countering stories in the Western and Israeli press alleging that Mubarak is ill, is in excellent health and completely able to serve another six-year term.
Opposition forces have been provoked by the pro-Gamal poster campaign. The official website of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said it believes that "senior NDP officials stand behind the campaign".
"There is a conflict between the NDP's old guard, who are associates of President Mubarak and want him to stay so they retain their own positions, and the NDP's younger generation who want to see Gamal Mubarak as president of Egypt as soon as possible," said ikhwanweb.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the El-Baradei-led NAC are cooperating over an online petition calling for political reform and constitutional amendments. Ikhwanweb claims that it has collected 252,000 signatures for the petition, while the NAC's website says it has more than 450,000 signatures in support of El-Baradei's political reform manifesto.
Not to be outdone by the NAC, which is seeking one million signatures in support of El-Baradei's campaign, the PCSGM says it is aiming at winning the support of five million citizens for a Gamal Mubarak presidential bid.
The NAC and other political dissent movements, including the 6 April Youth Movement, have plastered streets in Cairo and Alexandria with posters of El-Baradei.
An NDP source said "we are closely following what is called the one-million signatures campaign."
"This figure," said the source, "represents just 1.4 per cent of Egypt's population of 84 million, and most of the signatures, especially those collected via the Internet, are false."
Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour says the poster campaign is yet more evidence that describing Gamal Mubarak to being groomed to inherit power from his father.
Nour, a potential presidential candidate in 2011, says he asked several shop owners in Gammaliya district about the pro-Gamal posters only to be told they had been put up by Cairo City Council employees.
"They told me they were compelled to display the posters to avoid harassment from local officials," Nour told the "Change through Political Parties" conference on 29 July. Nour announced that his party will launch its own poster campaign, which will raise slogans like "Egypt is too big for you, Gamal Mubarak" and "No to Gamal Mubarak".
Political analysts were divided over the pro-Gamal poster campaign.
Mustafa Elwi, appointed NDP member of the Shura Council and a Cairo University Political Science professor, wondered "why supporters of Gamal Mubarak should be denied the right of putting up posters while the supporters of El-Baradei or Nour are allowed to do so," while stressing that the party has nothing to do with the campaign.
NAC coordinator Hassan Nafaa thinks the pro-Gamal campaign could be aimed at gauging Gamal Mubarak's popularity or perhaps "a prelude to something being cooked up by businessmen close to Gamal Mubarak in the NDP who want to see him as Egypt's pro-business president as soon as possible'.
In an address to young NDP leaders Gamal Mubarak focussed on the party's parliamentary manifesto
In response to a question about his political future on 2 August, Gamal Mubarak, the 47-year-old younger son of President Hosni Mubarak, said on Tuesday that he already has a full time job within the ruling party's ranks, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.
"I am the chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party's [NDP] Policies Committee and my job in this committee is to help formulate and crystallise national policies in collaboration with the government," he told a meeting of NDP young leaders at Helwan University on Tuesday.
The answer was an indirect response to ongoing speculation that he is using his position in the party to prepare for a presidential bid.
Mubarak has not officially announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election, scheduled in September 2011, and President Hosni Mubarak has denied on several occasions that his son is being groomed to take over.
Alieddin Hilal, the NDP's Secretary for Media Affairs, told the meeting that "the NDP has nothing to do with the so-called pro-Gamal poster campaign".
"The party is focussed on preparing for parliamentary elections," said Hilal. "Press reports that have appeared about the poster campaign are entirely unfounded. The campaign is the initiative of some young political activists. There is no party involvement."
The NDP, Gamal Mubarak continued, is now engaged in drafting its manifesto for parliamentary elections and will announce its platform during the party's annual conference in October.
"We face many challenges on this front. We propose increasing the number of voting and polling stations so that smaller numbers are registered at each. This will mean voting will be much more transparent and easier for judges to monitor."
The party, he said, will endeavour to ensure it field candidates whose integrity and good reputation translates into votes. "The party's record of political and economic achievement will also help maintain its majority in the People's Assembly," he added.
Following a wave of scandals involving MPs, senior party officials recently announced that the performance of deputies from the outgoing 2005-2010 parliament is being reviewed and the party would refuse to field candidates who did not enjoy the full confidence of the public.
Reform across a host of sectors would be a central plank of the NDP's manifesto, said Mubarak, who last week met with writers as part of the party's preparations for a paper on cultural issues.
"Cultural issues should be a part of the NDP's reform programme. We will never be able to achieve integrated development without upgrading the existing culture," Gamal Mubarak said, arguing that the party's reform agenda, encapsulated in the slogan "a new way of thinking" adopted in 2002, had energised political life in Egypt.
"It is this agenda that opened the way to the political dynamism that has swept the country in the last few years as unprecedented freedom of expression was allowed to grow," he said.
"The next few months will see a clash of ideas among major political forces on the issue of the reform and the future of the country, which is only natural given how difficult it is to build a consensus on political issues."
The younger Mubarak also argued that the amendment of Article 76 of the constitution in 2005, and the amendment of 34 articles in 2007, opened the horizons of political reform in Egypt.
"These amendments put an end to the single candidate referendum, encouraging many politicians to stand in presidential elections," said Mubarak.
He insists that the NDP-supported government is doing everything possible to uproot corruption.
"Several organisations and agencies are entrusted with fighting corruption at all levels. The party has no problem with any senior official, once implicated in corruption, being referred to court for trial."
Mubarak also defended the NDP's record on the sensitive issue of human rights, saying the credit for establishing the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) should go to the party.
"There is no question that the NCHR, together with recent laws passed by parliament, represents a big step towards guaranteeing the respect of human rights in Egypt," said Mubarak.
He staunchly defended the government's privatisation policies.
"It is true that some companies that were privatised are suffering problems but on the whole the financial performance of privatised companies has improved and this is reflected in increased levels of productivity and in the incomes of employees."
That the Egyptian economy has grown enormously, with steady advances in GDP, means that reliance on US economic assistance has decreased to the point where it is now a modest component of the national economy, he said.
On foreign issues, Mubarak argued that Egypt's regional role may have changed, but it is not in retreat.
"To those who allege that Egypt's role in the Arab world and Middle East has suffered a setback, I would point out that there is no point whatsoever in comparisons with the 1960s. International and regional developments have moved on in the last four decades, and so has Egypt."