CAIRO (Reuters) -Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his ruling party have had a rough nine months since the first group of Egyptians came out on the streets shouting "Enough" to 24 years of authoritarian government.
But Mubarak would be wrong to think a victory in Wednesday”s first contested presidential elections will silence his critics or pave the way for a smooth succession by his politician son Gamal, analysts and opposition activists say.
Mubarak”s many opponents will continue to contest the hasty constitutional arrangements that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) put in place this year in response to unexpected foreign and domestic pressures, they say.
If they detect irregularities in the voting and counting, they will challenge the results through the legal system, casting doubt on Mubarak”s legitimacy.
And the two overwhelming questions in Egyptian politics — who will succeed Mubarak and what role should the Islamist movement play in public life — are no closer to solution.
The turmoil is likely to continue at least until November parliamentary elections, a better test than the presidentials of whether the government is serious when it talks about reform and democracy, said political scientist Hassan Nafaa.
It could last for the months and maybe years to come as opposition groups clamour for more profound change, especially if the NDP remains tightly linked to the state or tries to install Gamal Mubarak as the next president, he added.
Mubarak faces nine rivals in the first direct presidential elections on September 7 but only two are widely known.
The new rules, which replace referendums on a single presidential candidate chosen by parliament, exclude independent candidates from unrecognised groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt”s largest opposition movement.
In an interview published on Sunday, Mubarak again ruled out any party for the Brotherhood. "Allowing parties based on religion would be a path surrounded with dangers," he told the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm.
After 50 years under strong and long-lasting rulers from military backgrounds, Egyptians have been wary of politics and sceptical of government promises of change.
But in the last nine months a multitude of reformist and civil society groups has sprung up, taking advantage of the opening created by the Kefaya (Enough) Movement, which campaigned against a fifth six-year term for Mubarak or any attempt to create a Mubarak dynasty with Gamal as successor.
George Ishaq, the coordinator of Kefaya, said the movement would pursue its campaign and try to bring opposition groups together in a united front for the parliamentary elections.
"We in the Kefaya movement will continue in our struggle, because we haven”t yet achieved our aims," he told Reuters.
"In our judgment the presidential elections are a referendum in disguise and their legitimacy is in doubt, so we will continue until real elections are held," he added.
Gehad Auda, a political scientist and NDP spokesman, said a convincing landslide for Mubarak in the elections next week would strengthen the hand of reformists in the ruling party. That would indirectly give more space to opposition groups.
"A good win will give the NDP more confidence to go more radically into reforming the institutional setup of Egypt, instead of progressing very slowly and cautiously," he said.
But if the result is less than a landslide, the old guard in the ruling party, some of whom have been in politics since the 1960s, would hold it against the reformers, he added.
Either way, Mubarak is unlikely to jettison the old guard before November because he might need some of the leading members to do well in the parliamentary elections, he added.
Nafaa said a future bone of contention will be a rule that requires political parties to hold five percent of the seats in parliament, which the NDP currently dominates, before their leaders can run for the presidency.
The requirement, which no opposition party can now meet, was waived this year but will come into effect in 2011 or even earlier if Mubarak dies or retires during his next term.
"That (provision) will not survive at all. Every serious political figure in this country is calling, not for an amendment of the constitution but for another new constitution, to rewrite the whole constitution," Nafaa said.
Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters a Gamal succession was clearly on the cards.
"Now he (Mubarak) is preparing Gamal Mubarak to set him firmly on his feet by giving him many powers … All the indications confirm … that he is the coming man," he said.
But a Gamal succession bid would be highly unpopular in some circles and could reignite the protest movements of 2005.
Mona Makram-Ebeid, a former opposition member of parliament, said the presidential elections had awakened a desire among Egyptians to participate in politics, despite reservations.
"But it doesn”t matter… The ball has started to roll and there is no way that it will go back," she told Reuters.