CAIRO: The country s ruling party meets on today amid mounting speculation about the succession to President Hosni Mubarak, but analysts say they do not expect any new moves to groom his son Gamal for power.
Mubarak, who turns 80 next year and has ruled the country for more than a quarter of a century, has always denied any ambition to start a presidential dynasty like that of fellow Arab state Syria where President Bashar Al-Assad succeeded his father Hafez on his death in 2000.
But Gamal’s meteoric rise up the ranks of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) since his entry into politics in 1995 has prompted charges from the opposition that he is being prepared for the succession.
In 2002, Gamal was put in charge of the party’s powerful policy secretariat and last year he made the high-profile announcement that after a 20-year freeze Egypt was launching a civil nuclear program.
This year, however, party officials said they did not expect any change in the top leadership of the party, which is in the grips of a power struggle between the old guard and a younger generation of technocrats championed by Gamal.
“My guess is no dramatic change will take place, senior party official Ali El-Din Helal told a meeting of the foreign press.
Press reports say old guard stalwart Safwat Al-Sherif, who is also speaker of the Shoura Council, is set to stay on as party secretary general, while Gamal Mubarak will continue to head the policy secretariat.
“It’s a non-event, said Hisham Kassem, former publisher of the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“Gamal is very unpopular and the NDP just wants to show it exists even though it is nothing more than a conveyor belt of power, Kassem told AFP.
This year, for the first time since he took power in 1981, Mubarak will stand for election as party chairman.
But there is no doubt about the outcome of the vote among the 6,700 delegates who will assemble in Cairo for the party’s ninth conference as the veteran president faces no challenger.
“Mubarak will be elected unanimously, trumpeted the headline in the state-owned Al-Gomhuria newspaper.
However, the president is expected to tread carefully in advancing his 43-year-old son’s career and not expose him to the public spotlight as much as in previous years.
Mubarak himself is to chair the special committee devoted to Egypt’s nuclear ambitions at this year’s conference and it was the president who announced on Monday that the government had decided to start construction of a number of nuclear reactors.
Egyptian newspapers have been abuzz with rumors that one of Gamal’s key aides – steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, who is also a senior member of the policy secretariat – has fallen foul of top party officials.
There has also been widespread speculation in the press that alliances within the party have been shifting and a lively debate over whether Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s loyalties lie with the party old guard or with the technocrats around Gamal.
At issue for the party is a growing concern that the liberal reforms championed by the Western-leaning regime have done little to address the needs of the 43.9 percent of Egyptians who live on less than $2 a day, according to World Bank figures.
Despite a major program of economic reforms which have yielded annual growth of 7.2 percent, social inequalities have increased.
“The rich get richer and the poor get less poor but not as fast, Finance Minister Yussef Boutros Ghali acknowledged on Monday.
With 80 percent of the seats in parliament, the NDP has a firm grip on the levers of power. The principal opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, remains officially banned and holds its seats in parliament – around one-fifth – through nominal independents.
But the regime remains concerned enough about the Brotherhood’s influence that it has launched a major crackdown on its finances and top leadership in recen