CAIRO (AFP) – A campaign to nominate the son of Egypt’s aging President Hosni Mubarak to succeed him has long intrigued palace watchers in this country, which faces an uncertain political future amid growing dissent.
Gamal Mubarak, 46, who holds a senior position in the ruling National Democratic Party, has long been rumoured to be the heir apparent to his octogenarian father. But he has never indicated whether he would like to take over what some fear could become a family dynasty.
Over the past month, posters of Gamal, a former investment banker, have been plastered around Cairo neighbourhoods by a previously unknown group called the “Popular Campaign to Support Gamal Mubarak.”
That was followed by several announcements from groups, also previously unknown, to collect signatures for a petition supporting a bid for the presidency by Gamal.
Their volunteers wear shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Gamal Mubarak: a new beginning for Egypt.”
Earlier this week, a newspaper quoted an unnamed activist in the Mubarak campaign as saying it was funded by a member of the NDP’s policies committee, which is chaired by Gamal.
The NDP denies any involvement in the campaign, which appears to mimic a campaign by supporters of former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei.
The Nobel Prize laureate returned to the country earlier this year to push for constitutional change. He says he will run in elections only if the constitution, which restricts independent nominations, is amended.
But he faces an uneven competition. Despite popular disaffection with the government, the country’s opposition is weak and divided.
The government has allowed limited political reforms — for which Gamal has accepted credit — and has managed to ensure that dissent does not get out of hand.
But the country faces an uncertain future compounded by the backroom dealing that marks its politics.
Hosni Mubarak, 82, has not said whether he intends to stand for reelection in 2011. His government has battled reports that his health is deteriorating after he underwent gall bladder surgery last March.
Political analysts believe the pro-Gamal campaign is funded by businessmen close to Gamal to strengthen his shot at the presidency while his father still has a say.
The analysts believe that Gamal, who did not rise through the ranks of the military like his father and previous presidents, would have less of a chance without his father’s support.
“I think this campaign began at the proposal of some businessmen who fear a deterioration in President Mubarak’s health and believe that it is better to quicken Gamal’s succession while his father is around,” said Mustapha Kamal, a political science professor at Cairo University.
The business community believes its best chances lie with Gamal, he said. Gamal was a driving force behind economic reforms that have attracted foreign investment, and is seen as a force for business friendly stability.
But the NDP has not yet backed the campaign, Kamal added.
“There are still differing points of view in the party regarding the candidate for the next elections,” he said.
Another analyst, Dia Rashwan, says he believes the current campaign is intended to convince Hosni Mubarak of his son’s popularity.
“It is primarily aimed at President Mubarak to convince him that Gamal Mubarak is a popular man, and there is no danger in him being the presidential candidate,” he said.
Rashwan believes Mubarak himself is the main obstacle to his son’s presidency.
The president “is cautious, and the person who knows best in Egypt the balance of governing. He knows that the post of president is subject to forces inside state institutions including the military, which will have a say.”
Crucial foreign backers such as the United States, which underwrites much of Egypt’s foreign aid, will also be hoping for a stable transition and powerful president.
Egypt is a key US ally in the tumultuous Middle East, and widespread dissatisfaction with government policy and the rich-poor divide are just two factors that could contribute to instability in a country of 80 million.