Back among the people
Gamal Mubarak returned to politics, paying visits to Egyptian villages and supervising preparations for Shura Council elections, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
For roughly six weeks, Gamal Mubarak, the 47-year-old son of President Mubarak and chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party's powerful Policies Committee, was absent from the Egyptian political scene. Gamal had been in Germany in March alongside his father who underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder. He was also celebrating the birth of his first child, Farida, in the first week of April.
While President Mubarak was convalescing in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, Gamal Mubarak decided to resume his political activities, reinforcing his profile as a major political player. Between 12 April and last week, Gamal took part in several high-level party meetings and paid a visit to an Egyptian village in the Delta governorate of Daqahliya.
On 12 April, Gamal participated in the NDP's six-member steering committee to review the party's future political agenda and prepare for the elections of the Shura Council next summer.
On 21 April, Gamal supervised the NDP's electoral colleges designed to select the party's Cairo candidates in the mid-term elections of the Shura Council, scheduled for the beginning of June. Gamal highly praised the role of the electoral colleges in democratising the NDP's internal structures and broadening the scope of participation in the process of decision-making.
On 22 April Gamal made his first public appearance outside Cairo, choosing to visit the village of Damas in the governorate of Daqahliya, northwest of Cairo. In his words: "Damas is a highly productive village and represents an excellent example of self-dependent local development."
Gamal said his visits outside Cairo included not only poor villages but also productive ones which top the agenda of the NDP's agricultural development. He stressed that civil society organisations should play a greater role in local development, urging that "the government alone should no longer bear the burden of funding self-productive rural projects."
According to Gamal, three important laws aimed at raising the socio-economic living standard of citizens will soon be discussed by parliament. "These include opening the door for private participation in public infrastructure projects; upgrading pensions and the insurance system; and instituting a new social insurance pension for poor classes," Gamal said.
In political terms, Gamal Mubarak strongly condemned calls by the NDP's MP Nashaat El-Qassas for security forces to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators. "This call is totally rejected and can never be justified and it was strongly condemned by the NDP's secretariat-general in its most recent meeting," the president's son said.
A meeting held by the People Assembly's Legislative Affairs Committee yesterday also condemned El-Qassas, recommending that he be referred to parliament's Ethics Committee. The committee said that in a parliamentary meeting on 18 April El-Qassas said of security forces: "They should not use water hoses to disperse outlaw demonstrators but rather shoot at them directly."
Some observers agree that the temporary absence of Gamal Mubarak from the political scene had partly enhanced the profile of Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as a potential successor to the 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak. Observers also believe that since he returned to Egypt to lead a ferocious anti-NDP campaign for political reform, El-Baradei has managed to draw attention to his campaign. Like Gamal, observers remarked, El-Baradei decided to visit Egyptian villages and mix with ordinary Egyptians during Friday prayers in well known mosques. He even took his political reform message to America last week. On Tuesday, El-Baradei met a number of Egyptian academics and reformists in Harvard University and posted an Internet message on his Twitter website urging Egyptians to "break the wall of fear the way Germans broke the Berlin Wall in 1990".
But even if El-Baradei manages to join the presidential elections of 2011, he stands no chance of victory, given the overwhelming authority of the NDP, which controls politics across Egypt. The vast majority of NDP members are young citizens who firmly support Gamal Mubarak as a successor to his father, not to mention that Gamal is also very popular among businessmen who highly appreciate his economic reformist initiatives.
President Mubarak and Gamal have repeatedly denied that they eye a father-son succession scenario.
Speculation has been rife in recent weeks that President Mubarak had at last decided to name a vice-president. President Mubarak has not appointed a vice- president since he came to power in 1981. Rumours were and remain rampant that he has chosen Omar Suleiman, chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, to be his deputy. Other rumours, however, suggest that Suleiman will be appointed a member of the NDP's political bureau rather than as Mubarak's long-awaited deputy.
"Suleiman will simply replace Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb El-Naggar, who was appointed grand imam of Al-Azhar last month, as a member of the NDP's political bureau," said a political analyst who asked not to be identified, adding that the appointment "will open the door for Suleiman to be a member of the NDP's 45- member higher council and hence become eligible to run in future presidential elections".
The number of candidates willing to run in presidential elections has grown in recent weeks. Abdallah El-Ashaal, a former deputy minister of foreign affairs, announced that he will be fielded by the opposition Arab Misr (Egypt) Socialist Party (AMSP) as its official candidate in 2011.
Since he resigned from the Foreign Ministry, El-Ashaal has been a harsh critic of the regime of President Mubarak. Wahid El-Oksori, AMSP chairman, strongly denied that El-Ashaal will be fielded by his party. "El-Ashaal is not an AMSP member and we are not interested in importing candidates from outside the party," El-Ashaal said.
Ayman Nour, leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, and Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the Karama Party, have announced they, too, intend to run in the presidential elections despite several insurmountable legal obstacles. Amr Elshobaki, an Al-Ahram analyst, argues that Nour can never stand in elections because "the years he spent in jail [between 2005 and 2009] make him ineligible to run."
"On the other hand," added Elshobaki, "since Karama is not an officially recognised party, the only chance for Sabahi to run is to be fielded as an independent but this is quite impossible."
Elshobaki, however, said he believed that the increase in the number of hopeful presidential aspirants helps reinvigorate political life. "This, though, reflects how difficult it is for the opposition to agree on one candidate and how easier this makes it for an NDP candidate to win any presidential election," Elshobaki argues.
NDP officials have so far refused to name their party's candidate for the presidential elections of 2011. They attribute the early announcement of some to run in presidential elections to their party's reformist initiatives, especially the amendment of Article 76 of the constitution in 2005.