Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak can no longer expect to take part in a press conference in a non-Arab country without a journalist asking him that same old question: is it true that you will hand over power to your son Jamal? The Egyptian President said: “The issue of my son succeeding me is not on my mind. You should ask him.”
This is what happened last Monday during an interview the president gave in Washington where he was asked the same question by journalists on three previous visits. The question was first asked ten years ago, and it seems that it is an unavoidable question. Jamal Mubarak is practically a leading figure of the ruling National Democratic Party, and the Egyptian media is publicly debating the issue. The question is a legitimate one and needs to be raised from time to time. The fact that this question has been repeated over and over during the past few years has contributed to further consolidating the belief that Jamal Mubarak will assume presidency of the largest Arab country. In fact, it is not a bad idea in our Arab region – where presidents have handed down power in the past – especially if the alternatives are unpopular. What I mean is that bequeathal of authority is better if the alternatives are military bequeathal, or bequeathal by means of vote rigging, like in present-day Iran, or worst of all no bequeathal, appointment or elections but only a vacuum that endangers the country.
The distinguishing factor of Jamal Mubarak – that he is the Egyptian president’s son – is also a major problem for him. Otherwise those who are sceptical about him or reject him based on his character or out of principle would not have protested so loudly against him. We hardly read any objective criticism of Jamal Mubarak regardless of what is written in the Egyptian press itself. Those who know him say that he is a respectable and disciplined politician and someone with a modern way of thinking that the old Egyptian administration lacked. They say he is different to other veterans.
Those who reject him argue that he is the president’s son and that he did not climb the ladder in the same way as others; he climbed it by using his connections. Without doubt, the assumption that he will be president has harmed him to such a degree because he has faced so much criticism, defamation and suspicion for over an entire decade, and is often criticized because he is the president’s son. Despite everything that has been said, he has not become the president of Egypt.
Regardless of all of this, the Egyptian president is yet to declare his upcoming presidential project as to whether he intends to run for presidency again or allow others to have a chance or let the ruling party decide. This is where Jamal Mubarak might step in. In spite of the result, Egypt is a major regional country and its president is the one who makes decisions that go beyond the borders of Egypt itself. President Mubarak was a key player in confronting extremist camps in the region. Even though the issue of who will be the next president of Egypt is an Egyptian issue, and the people of Egypt are more aware of their situation than anyone else, it is difficult to imagine Egypt not being involved in dealing with regional issues, just as it is difficult to imagine the region without Egypt. One of every three Arabs is Egyptian, and the country is located directly in the centre of the region.