Hurt, charming and unassuming
The effortless influence of the elder son of the president is being again appreciated, Dina Ezzat
"Why isn't he given the attention he deserves? He does good things, real good things and he is obviously not interested at all in making any political gains out of his charities," said Wafaa, a retired civil servant in her early 60s. Wafaa's companions, waiting for their hair to be dyed at the all- women beauty salon in Heliopolis, strongly agreed.
Wafaa was commenting on a recent, rare appearance of the elder son of President Hosni Mubarak on TV.
Alaa Mubarak and his spouse Heidi Rasekh were distributing awards in a Quran contest held under the auspices of a charity established by the couple in memory of their elder son who passed away at the age of 13 in May 2009 after a sudden illness.
At the time, considerable public affection was demonstrated towards the couple who have always kept a low profile and whose life is strictly kept a private affair, unlike that of the younger son of the president, Gamal Mubarak, who is the assistant secretary-general of the ruling party, and his spouse Khadiga who get considerable media attention.
And unlike his younger brother, Alaa Mubarak takes no part in politics and his name has never been associated with a possible successor to the president.
Alaa Mubarak is a businessman. The nature of his business has never been made public by the presidential palace but was in the late 1980s and early 1990s subject to some unconfirmed accounts that were eventually dispelled one way or the other.
Prior to the scene of the heartbroken father carrying the coffin of his deceased son in the spring of 2009, many had hardly ever seen Alaa Mubarak in any public appearance, aside perhaps from his presence among stadium spectators supporting the national football team.
Beyond the drama of the loss of his son, Alaa returned to his secluded style, with the one exception, when he spoke to a few TV channels during the furore which erupted over the matches between the Egyptian and Algerian football teams in the fall of last year.
At the time, a Facebook group was created to "support Alaa [not Gamal] for president of Egypt".
"I have no such desire, none whatsoever, and I do not at all see myself fit for this huge responsibility. I have nothing to do with this," Alaa Mubarak replied at the time when the question was brought up by the widely viewed TV talk show Al-Qahera Al-Yom.
Comparisons between the sons of the president seemed to be more in favour of Alaa, and were indeed influenced by the memory of the day of the funeral of the president's grandson.
Then as before, privacy reigned except for one news story during last year's pilgrimage season about Alaa Mubarak and Rasekh going on the journey of faith.
"They are not trying to present themselves in any artificial way. They act naturally, they talk naturally," said Amina, a banker. Speaking as she was attending to a small banking deal, Amina added, "they present a very good image of the presidency in a way that nobody could have done."
In his brief address to the audience of young Quran reciters from across Egypt, Alaa expressed gratitude to his parents and brother for their support of him and the Mohamed Alaa Mubarak Charity Foundation. This reference put a humane face to the president and to his younger son who were both subject to criticism from some political and human rights quarters over the administration of the parliamentary elections held over two days last month and early this month.
And by insisting that no donations from businessmen would be solicited or accepted by the charity which is working to promote a better understanding of the Quran, better healthcare services and better education -- all for children -- Alaa Mubarak immediately, maybe unintentionally, appealed to a public that has become tired of hearing stories, right or wrong, concerning the scope of intervention of business tycoons in political and legislative spheres.
"I think it is very important that [this charity] has nothing to do with businessmen because to be perfectly honest, one has become so sick of the stories of businessmen which are all about corruption," said Sultan, a driver, who added, "all these businessmen are members of and supported by the [ruling party]. It's best they keep this charity away from those businessmen so that the blessings of God support its work."
But was the timing of the appearance of the low- profile and charming couple in the context of reciting the Quran done deliberately to brush up the image of the ruling National Democratic Party leadership in the wake of the elections? Some journalists have speculated that it might be so. "There is no better image-lift [the president and Gamal Mubarak] could have hoped for," remarked one.
"Not true," answered an associate of the Mohamed Alaa Mubarak Charity Foundation. She insisted that the date of the contest was scheduled beforehand and that involvement of the Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments) was solicited because the supervision of a Quran reciting contest has to be done through the right channels. She added that it was the Ministry of Waqf who invited the media.
One source from Egyptian TV suggested that it was the office of the minister of information who arranged for the interview accorded jointly by Alaa Mubarak and Rasekh to Egyptian TV prime time talk show Masr Al-Naharda. "I guess he wanted a scoop for the programme and also wanted to promote the call for social work," she said.
Mahmoud Saad, the star presenter of Masr Al-Naharda who conducted the interview, verified that it was the minister of information who arranged for the interview "on very short notice".
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly over the phone, Saad said he received a call from the office of the minister of information at 3.30pm notifying him of the interview scheduled for 5.30pm on the same day, giving Saad precious little time.
Saad had to rush from the far end of West Cairo to his home in downtown Cairo, then to East Cairo where the interview was being held.
Saad said he arrived to meet "an extremely unassuming couple, with great allure and immediate presence".
For Saad, who has conducted hundreds of TV interviews with political and movie stars, the captivating essence of this particular interview lied exactly in what people sensed: "A truly modest couple coming out of a shocking, personal tragedy with an ambitious plan for social work."
According to Saad, Alaa Mubarak and Rasekh spoke from their hearts and their words went straight to the people's hearts. "We did not work on the questions before we screened the interview. I did not have to get my questions cleared and they were not at all acting as part of the presidential household. And I think viewers loved this."
Saad denies that the interview was orchestrated as part of a political campaign for the Mubaraks as some have suggested. "Very unlikely. It is very harsh to think that they would use such a human tragedy that is still affecting the whole family, to promote a political cause. I really did not see it that way," he insisted.
"Alaa Mubarak has nothing to do with politics," Saad argued. He added that the essence of the Alaa Mubarak charm is in his spontaneous and modest nature. "Those are exactly the qualities that appeal to the people and those were the main qualities that people liked about President Mubarak when he came to office.
"And the same goes for Heidi Rasekh who does not at all carry herself as the in-law of the president. Really not at all."