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memri
July 25, 2000 No.
32

Egpyt's Succession, Part II: Does Gamal Mubarak Have a Chance?

By: Yotam Feldner*

Support for Gamal's Succession to the Presidency

The opposition's objection to Gamal Mubarak as successor to his father was not unequivocal. Among opposition and government circles alike, there were voices insisting that the possibility of Gamal Mubarak becoming Egypt's next president not be ruled out. Editor in Chief of the government affiliated Al-Ahram Center's "Arab Strategic Report," Wahid Abd Al-Magid argued that Egypt needs a man from "the civil society" rather than the army - a description fitting Gamal Mubarak. He wrote: "Those who demand limits on the role of Gamal Mubarak cannot find a logical argument for it. They are right in saying that he should not be allowed to win any position just because he is the president's son. Yet, this does not mean that he should be punished and prevented from competing." The bottom line, from Abd Al-Magid's perspective, is that the name of Mubarak's successor does not matter, as long as he wins the presidency "as a result of his role in the civil society."[1] Clearly, Abd Al-Magid prefers Gamal Mubark, who belongs to the "civil society" over any candidate who comes from the army.

Similar initial support for Gamal Mubarak was heard from the ranks of the secular-nationalist opposition party Al-Wafd, whose other senior members were the fiercest critics of the Syrian succession. The first supporter was Yassin Sarraj Al-Din, brother of Al-Wafd party's leader, who said to the Al-Arabi weekly: "I personally admire Gamal Mubarak... he is an outstanding person, and I would agree to him becoming president since he genuinely believes in democracy and the political reform to which we aspire."[2] Ramzi Zaqlama, a member of Al-Wafd's higher leadership, concurred, stating that Gamal Mubarak, as a member of Egyptian civil society, can promote democracy and he should not be denied the opportunity to become president just because he is the president's son.[3] Sa'id Abd Al-Khaleq, co-editor in chief of Al-Wafd, added that "participation in public, and especially political, activity is a right reserved for every Egyptian as a citizen… I should not be prevented from enrolling in politics just because my father is the president or my uncle a minister."[4]

The support for Gamal Mubarak is in preliminary stages and it is still difficult to characterize those who are behind it. It is clear that Gamal Mubarak wins some support in the Al-Wafd opposition party, but members of this party are not of one mind. Many in the opposition accuse Al-Wafd of always supporting the regime in the end. In 1999, the deputy chairman of Al-Wafd, Nu'man Gum'a, defended deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Agriculture, and the chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party, Yussef Wali, in his trial against Islamic elements who accused him of cooperation with Israel. Al-Ahram's Arab Strategic Report for 1999,[5] cited this event to support its thesis that the dichotomy between government and parts of the opposition in Egypt is gradually fading away. In the past, Egypt's foreign policy (especially relations with Israel) was the main bone of contention between the Egyptian government and the opposition. But in the late 1990's, the gap between the regime and parts of the opposition was, to a large extent bridged, due to the regime's policy of cooling its relations with Israel. Currently, domestic policies (and especially the policy towards the Islamic movement) are the main factor that determine the relations between the regime and the opposition in Egypt. Therefore, the fact that the initial support for Gamal Mubarak comes from the ranks of Al-Wafd opposition should not come as a surprise. This support may even increase in the future.

Support for Gamal Mubarak is expected to come from people who can identify with the values he represents more easily than with the values of Defense Minister Tantawi, or any other military candidate. Although it is still early for a decisive conclusion, it seems that Gamal Mubarak will win some support from the business sector and from people who support the "economic liberalism" with which he is identified. Although the succession of the presidency from father to son will be difficult to swallow for most liberals, some of them are still expected to support Gamal Mubarak, as long as this succession bears a democratic appearance.

Conclusion

If President Mubarak had thoughts of promoting his son to the presidency before the recent developments in Syria, they were strengthened by the wide international support for Bashar Assad, including by the US and the UN, even before he was officially elected. The leading forces in international diplomacy, who preferred Bashar's promise of "stability" over democratic procedures, legitimized the phenomenon and there is no reason to believe that they would deny similar legitimacy to Gamal Mubarak should the "Syrian scenario" be repeated in Egypt.

Although, this possibility may seem far-fetched, at this point, it should not be ruled out. There have been previous attempts to introduce Gamal Mubarak into a formal political role. Last year, the Egyptian press discussed at length the possiblity of forming a new political party, Al-Mustaqbal ["The Future"], to be headed by Gamal Mubarak. This initiative was not ultimately realized, due presumably to the objection of the army. Since then, Gamal Mubarak has joined the leadership of his father's ruling National Democratic Party.

Similarly to the Al-Mustaqbal party affair, the current public discussion should be seen as a "trial balloon" on the part of the regime in order to feel the public pulse regarding Gamal Mubarak's succession. The media treatment of the Syrian succession played a crucial role in laying the groundwork for this discussion. Indeed, what was seen as inconceivable in Egypt only a few weeks ago has become a legitimate issue for public discussion, and even won some support.

Ibrahim 'Isa, a columnist at the Nasserist weekly Al-Arabi, wrote a scenario describing how the "inconceivable"can become a reality. He wrote: "There will be those who will seek to convey their opinions to the President. They will try to seduce him and capture his heart. They will praise the need for an heir - in order to safeguard stability. Others will try to court the President's paternal feelings and purify this foul decision for him. Many of us will put shoes in our mouths and keep silent, as if it does not concern us, as if the state is not our business. There will be those who will praise [the succession] with their silence, just as others will praise it with their hypocrisy. Such a catastrophe seems imaginary and hypothetical. However, it happened there [i.e. in Syria] and some want it to happen here. There will be those who will direct the attention to the son and encourage him to appear and speak more and more in public. When he enters a conference hall, they will stand up and praise him; when he says something, they will applaud. They will recite poetry in praise of his ingenuity and wisdom. They will say that he precedes his time, that he is a knight who leads his generation, that the state needs him, that the nation anticipates him, that the future is in his hands, that the country cherishes him, and that the people love him. They will say that he must talk to his father and persuade him to hand the presidency down to him," 'Isa concludes, "had such a thing not happened in Syria, I would not have said a word."[6]

Unlike Syria's Assad, President Mubarak seems to have no need to rush his son's promotion. The training process of Gamal Mubarak can continue gradually and for a long time. However, there are some signs that may indicate President Mubarak's intentions in the coming years.

Gamal Mubarak's Political Promotion

There are rumors in Egypt regarding Gamal Mubarak's election to the Parliament, as a member of the ruling NDP, in the coming elections in November 2000. If this, indeed, takes place, and especially if he is promoted to a significant position such as Speaker of Parliament or Minister, it will serve as an indicator that he is designated to be politically promoted.

Neutralizing Possible Military Opposition

If Defense Minister Tantawi - who is frequently mentioned as the most likely candidate to succeed Mubarak - is removed from the leadership, it will indicate that Mubarak is clearing the position for his son. The main obstacle facing Gamal Mubarak is that since Abd Al-Nasser, Egyptian presidents have come from upper levels of the officer corp. The meteoric promotion of Bashar Assad to the rank of Field Marshal in the Syrian army cannot be repeated in Egypt. Therefore, Gamal Mubarak's training process must include rhetoric arguing that in modern societies, and especially in the age of economic development, it is not essential that the president come from the army.

Highlighting Gamal Mubarak's Liberalism in the Egyptian Media

Gamal Mubarak is not an unknown figure for the Egyptian public. His public appearances, especially next to his father, testify to the intentions to promote him. Also, emphasizing Gamal Mubarak's liberal identity may reflect an attempt to neutralize the objection of the secular opposition. In Syria, such an identity was forged for Bashar Assad through "the campaign he launched against corruption." This identity assisted him in winning public and international support. Similarly, an emphasis on Gamal Mubarak's liberal identity may serve this function and facilitate the much needed public support.

*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.


[1] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), July 5, 2000.

[2] Mideast Mirror, July 7, 2000.

[3] Al-Wafd (Egypt), July 1, 2000

[4] Al-Wafd (Egypt), July 1, 2000.

[5] pp. 277-281.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 19, 2000.

[Egypt's Succession, Part I: Will Egypt Follow Syria's Precedent?]