Sunday, August 30, 2009


Egypt is today in a transitional phase. Presidential elections are scheduled for 2011, but Egyptians are still uncertain about whether incumbent Hosni Mubarak is intending to run for a sixth term, or if he is willing to witness, or indeed oversee, a transition of power to another president.

Hosni Mubarak is in the eyes of one group of analysts a replica of power-hungry Third World authoritarian rulers, who would not relinquish authority under any circumstances. They stay in power as long as they stay in life. Mubarak's infamous statement a few years ago that he will continue to serve the nation "until the last pulse" of his heart reinforced this group's conviction that Mubarak's disappearance from the stage of Egyptian politics will only accompany his death, and never before that.

A number of reasons, however, suggest that Mubarak may not run for a new term, preferring instead to groom his son Gamal Mubarak as his successor.

First, those in the corridors of Egyptian politics and economics who began pushing for the "tawreeth" (inheritance of Gamal) scenario a few years ago based their strategy on buying time. This choice was inevitable then for two reasons. First, they realized that imposing on Egyptian people a sudden and unwanted father-to-son transmission of power could trigger wide-ranging public protests that might jeopardize the entire plan. Second, they realized that this strategy goes best with the personality of President Mubarak, who has exhibited since 1981 a natural tendency towards moderation and gradualism, and an inherent aversion to "electric-shock" policies to which his predecessors grew accustomed.

Buying time was fitting when the plan was launched around nine years ago, but, today, the pro-Gamal clique understands that buying further time is a failing strategy. If in 2011 Hosni Mubarak (at the age of 83) runs for a new six-year term, biologically speaking, the possibility of his death or incapacitation during that term will be high. Talk about the deterioration of Mubarak's health is already rife, and there are indeed visible signs that support that talk. Certainly, if Hosni Mubarak passes away as President, Gamal will lose his main base of support, and his chances of rising to power will be greatly reduced.

Secondly, throughout his reign, Mubarak's concern for the stability of his country and regime outbid all other priorities. Now, at the age of 81, it makes sense to believe that Mubarak is speculating over Egypt's fate following his demise. Even if one succumbed to the accusations of Mubarak's harshest critics, who believe that the President's concern for Egypt's national interest has diminished over the years, and has been replaced by a narrow interest in the wellbeing of himself and his family, one would still be left with Mubarak's apprehension about the safety and welfare of his family after his demise. A smooth transfer of power that maintains stability, and with it the safety of his family, must be looming high in his calculations. Such an arrangement will likely work out if Gamal succeeds him as president.

Thirdly, opposition forces are in shambles, unable to disrupt any of the regime's grand schemes. The Muslim Brotherhood, the most effective and organized opposition force, has been subject to a serious of security crackdowns since their impressive showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. These measures have undermined the group, and diminished its capacity to defy the regime. Other opposition groups are weak, internally fragmented, suffer from a lack of resources, and their influence in the Egyptian street is limited.

In brief, politics in Egypt is in a miserable state of stagnation and fragmentation. Opposition parties and intellectuals are engaged in heated, theoretical, political debates, while average Egyptians are too busy making a living to care about the subtleties of political affairs. Nobody is more aware of the nature of this situation than the regime, for it was the architect of this "de-politization" process. Thus, Mubarak and his cohorts are probably concluding that Gamal's takeover of power will pass by smoothly, with minimal opposition and civil unrest.

Fourth, there are indicators that Mubarak's regime has strived lately to secure America's acquiescence of Gamal's rise to the presidency. The regime has also tried to convince major political and societal forces to back, explicitly or tacitly, the grooming of Gamal for the presidency. Last July, Pope Shenouda III suggested that Gamal would be the best candidate to succeed his father. Along with the Egyptian Orthodox Church, other political forces (including the Muslim Brotherhood group) may have been enticed or intimidated to take similar positions.

Will 2011 be as important as 1952, 1970 and 1981 to Egypt's history?

Nael M. Shama

* This article was published in Daily News (Egypt) on August 27, 2009.