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Gamal Mubarak: Egypt's Next Leader? - 2002-09-23

By any standard, Gamal Mubarak, son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has had a meteoric rise in politics. Though he entered politics just a couple of years ago, he was recently named the political secretary for the ruling National Democratic Party. The position will allow the 39-year-old former banker to help set the party's political agenda. It may also, many Egyptians say, increase his chances of succeeding his father as president.

Two years ago, Gamal Mubarak left his job as the head of a foundation that helped prepare young people for the job market, and began his career in politics. His father named him head of the government's youth and development committee.

Last Wednesday, he got another promotion. During the ruling National Democratic Party's convention, President Mubarak named his son as the party's political secretary, one of the most powerful positions in the party. The appointment is fueling speculation that Gamal Mubarak is being groomed by his father to succeed him as president.

During the convention, the president said it was important that young people participate in politics, because it made it easier to hand over political responsibility from one generation to the next. While the president was speaking, cameras at the nationally televised convention zoomed in on Gamal Mubarak.

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president since 1981, has said he has no desire for his son to succeed him, but many Egyptians believe otherwise. Public opinion expert Said Sadek Amin says the president and his party have been actively promoting Gamal Mubarak, in Egypt and around the world.

"They were trying to promote him, and sell his image to the public, apprentice him into politics. If you have noticed, he has been always accompanying the president on many international visits, including the United States. This was all taken as a means to prepare him for the big job, which is the president of Egypt, that he would be the successor," Mr. Amin said.

For many Egyptians, another sign that the son is being groomed to succeed his father is that, over the last several months, flattering stories, usually accompanied by pictures, have appeared about him in Egyptian newspapers, magazines and television. Since virtually all the media in Egypt are controlled by the government, Egyptians view these stories as another sign of Gamal Mubarak's standing.

One thing that is not in the younger Mubarak's favor is that he was never in the military. Since the republic was founded in 1952, all heads of state in Egypt, including President Mubarak, have come from the military. Gamal Mubarak's background is in business. He was once an executive for Bank of America International in London and the executive director for a financial consulting firm in Egypt.

Mohamed el-Morsy is with Egypt's leading opposition party, Wafd, and a member of the Egyptian parliament. He says the only reason Gamal Mubarak is qualified to be president is because his father is president. He says, the fact that Gamal Mubarak has not been in the military is not important.

"Why should it be important? Egypt needs a leader regardless of his background. If he's a leader, he's a leader," Mohamed el-Morsy said.

He said the younger Mubarak is important to the National Democratic Party, because he gives the party a new image at a time when it really needs it. In 2000, the NDP won its lowest-ever number of seats in parliamentary elections, and, this year, there have been numerous corruption scandals involving high level officials within the party. According to Mr. el-Morsy, Gamal Mubarak will help the NDP, because he is not tainted by any scandal, and will also appeal to youth, something his father was less and less able to do.

Hassan Nafae is a political analyst in Cairo. He believes Gamal Mubarak is seeking to change the NDP from within, and he says there is public support for it. "In the mind of the majority of the Egyptian people, this corruption is very much linked to the party itself. And because many important figures of the party ruled for so many years, it is time to change. And, I think, that is why some hope that Gamal Mubarak will be able to lead a movement from within the party to change, not only to get the younger generation a more active role, but also to replace those who are connected with corruption," he said.

Even if Gamal Mubarak does not succeed his father as president, analysts say, his appointment as political secretary of the NDP has already affected the political scene in Egypt. They say his appointment moved the center of power in the Egyptian government to a new generation of the party.