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Egypt, US Ponder Post-Mubarak Egypt


President Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for the third time Tuesday. The frequency of talks is indicative of how strong Washington's relations with Cairo have been for decades. But also, for decades, those relations have rested largely on one man - Mr. Mubarak. The Egyptian leader, aged 81, is now serving his fifth six-year term, and the question of who may succeed him has consequences beyond Egypt's borders.

The talks in Washington are centered on the Middle East peace process and the Arab world's relatiionship with Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, all issues Mr. Mubarak has taken an active interest in.

But underneath lies the question of what comes next for Egypt, or more specifically, who. In power since 1981, Mr. Mubarak has given little indication of what the transition might look like. He has no vice president. He has not said if he will run for re-election in 2011, and many wonder if that would even be advisable, as he would be nearly 90 at the end of that term.

It is an issue that concerns not just Egyptians. Professor Said Sadek is a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, who worries any instability or political vaccum could be exploited by hardline groups and politicians across the region that oppose U.S. influence in the region.

"How do you guarantee the transition of power in Egypt, so that we don't have an unpredictable situation in Egypt that would get you the Muslim Brotherhood here in alliance with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Beirut and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad in Tehran - voila, the American strategic policy in the area would collapse," said Sadek.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement, is banned. And two of Egypt's best known international figures, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and the U.N. nuclear chief Mohammed ElBaradei, have not responded to supporters' calls to run. That leaves two much-discussed possibilities - intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman, and Mr. Mubarak's son, Gamal.

While the general has strong ties to Egypt's all-important military, Gamal Mubarak, a rising star in the ruling party, has obvious ties of his own.

To some Egyptians, the choice does not present a problem. Youssef Tawfuk manages a car dealership in Cairo.

He says his countrymen leave this subject to God. Egyptians are overwhelmed with the burdens of the day, he says, and never think about tomorrow.

Many Egyptians, perhaps, but not all.

Gamal Awad, a driver in the Egyptian capital, says what he cares about are free and fair elections. He says he doesn't care who is elected, just that the outcome is not rigged.

It is an attitude that has not gone unnoticed. Professor Sadek of the American University in Cairo.

"Public opinion is becoming a solid factor, and cannot be ignored or neglected," he said. "That's why you see the potential candidates are active using any means to try to influence public opinion."

Gamal Mubarak held a much publicized online chat with Egyptians last week via the social networking site Facebook. The irony was not lost on members of Egypt's political opposition, some of whom have been jailed by Gamal's father for using Facebook to broaden their appeal.

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