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As Mubarak era enters twilight, spotlight falls on son

Written by: Staff
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CAIRO, Apr 25: Egyptian writer Ahmed Fekri is so convinced President Hosni Mubarak will step down soon that he has drafted a resignation speech for the long-time leader.

''I have entrusted my son, Gamal, to take the post of president of the Republic. Before you, I advise him to guard the system of the Republic,'' jested Fekri, writing in the anti-government weekly al-Dustour.

Who will assume Egypt's vast presidential powers after Mubarak, who will be 78 in May, is the most pressing political question in the Arab world's most populous country.

But with no official word on who could replace him or when a change might happen, Egyptians are in the dark.

Many believe that Gamal Mubarak, a leading light in the ruling party, is in line for the job, despite his assertions that he does not want the post his father has held since 1981.

A senior official's recent comment to Reuters that Mubarak would step down if he found a successor has been widely interpreted as a sign that change at the top is on the way.

Some analysts, diplomats and opposition politicians think Mubarak will step down within a year, others say he will do so within two.

Hardly any expect him to see out the new six-year term he secured in a presidential election last year.

''The post-Mubarak era is being carefully planned and readied.

The remarks are to prepare the public for the fact that the next president will be ruling sooner rather than later,'' said political analyst Joshua Stacher.

METEORIC RISE The senior official, presidential adviser Osama el-Baz, said Mubarak would remain in power as long as he was capable of doing so. ''But if he finds that there is another group of people, another person, who are willing to carry the torch, I have the feeling he would welcome it,'' Baz said last month.

Mubarak is not thinking of transferring power to Gamal, Baz said.

''It's not clear yet who can take over,'' he added.

Others too say the official silence on the issue is due to indecision over a successor rather than a desire for secrecy.

'There may not be that much truth to reveal,'' one diplomat said.

But for most, it is hard to see a clear alternative to Gamal, 42, a former investment banker and one of the most influential figures in the ruling National Democratic Party.

Mubarak has always rejected the idea that he would bequeath power to Gamal, saying Egypt is no Syria, where Bashar al-Assad became president after his father's death in 2000.

But Gamal's meteoric rise in the NDP makes it hard for many to believe he is not being fast-tracked to the presidency. A recent NDP promotion and his engagement are the latest signs of presidential plans, they say. ''The bits keep clicking into place,'' one diplomat said.

Gamal's influence in the NDP is unmatched, said Hala Mustafa, a dissenting member of the party's policy-making body, which is headed by the president's son.

Under rules made last year for presidential elections, only parties meeting certain requirements can nominate a candidate. That candidate must be from the party's highest leadership body.

CIVILIAN PRESIDENT If Mubarak were to step down, the NDP would press Gamal to be its candidate, Mustafa said. ''He doesn't have any rivals,'' said Mustafa, who is also editor of Al-Ahram Democracy Review.

But for that scenario to work, Mubarak would have to oversee the transition himself, analysts say. Support for Gamal might evaporate if his father were to die in office.

''Does he have the support of the people who really matter and who are those people? It's not clear to what extent the senior officer corps maintains a veto,'' one diplomat said.

Since the 1952 coup which overthrew the monarchy, all Egypt's presidents have come from the military.

But the constitutional amendment which last year put in place the laws for presidential elections has paved the way for a civilian successor to Mubarak, analysts say. Mubarak himself said last year the military had no role in politics.

Omar Suleiman, head of intelligence with the rank of general, appears to be cut from the traditional cloth of Egyptian presidents.

Regularly sent on diplomatic missions, he is often mentioned as a possible successor.But Suleiman is not a leading member of the ruling party, precluding him from candidacy for now.

Whoever emerges as the NDP's candidate will not face a challenger because no opposition group meets the tough requirements for candidacy. The opposition says the requirements were designed to block any challenge to the president.

Critics say presidential adviser Baz's remarks further reflect the lack of any democratic reform in Egypt.

''It's not the job of the president to pick another president. We need to have a functioning democracy where people have the right to pick,'' said Mohamed al-Sayed Said, a political analyst and member of the country's reform movement.

REUTERS

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