Most Egyptians today are obsessed with the succession conversation, and rightfully so. The country’s fate has always been decided by the whim of its individual ruler, rather than institutions. Nasser went for Arab nationalism, industrialization, welfare state, and military adventures; Sadat shifted 180 degrees to an open market economy, pro-American policies, and lost interest in anything Arab. After his assassination, Mubarak became obsessed with stability which later turned into stagnation, until his son unleashed the unchecked powers of monopolistic capitalism. Even prior to the 1952 regime, Egypt’s fate was decided by the ruling monarch and the British Viceroy.
The common sentiment in all these conversations, be it among Egyptians in a Cairo café, intellectuals in a Cairo salon, or analysts in a Washington DC meeting, is that Gamal Mubarak’s accession to power is a near fait accompli. However, I would make a contrarian argument that this is a myth. Gamal Mubarak is unlikely to be Egypt’s next President; and if he did, it will be for a very short period. Why?
Gamal Mubarak has been introduced to the political scene almost ten years ago. He started with community service work through the Future Generation Foundation, along with a number of businessmen who saw an opportunity in associating with him. Then he moved to the National Democratic Party (NDP) through the Political Bureau, which he created to be the policy making think tank for the government. On the economic front, the Nazif government is mostly driven by Gamal’s policies, which albeit successful at the macro level, have failed in trickling down to the majority of the population who are drifting deeper and deeper into poverty.
Throughout his ten year presence on the political scene, Gamal Mubarak has failed to create a broad political constituency. He is disliked by youth, disrespected by the army, despised by labor, and resented by intellectuals. His only constituency is a narrow circle of business monopolists and political cronies. It is not even fair to say that he is supported by broad business interests because many business owners are hit hard by corruption and monopolies, and do support moderate change. This is in contrast to his father, who, despite everything, has enjoyed enough support among the military as well as the labor and peasant classes. Is this narrow circle enough to get Gamal Mubarak to power and keep him there? I would argue not.
The only way for Gamal Mubarak to ascend to power is for his father to hand him the throne during his life, and while he is still in full control of the military and security apparatus. But rumors have it that even his father is not a believer in his son’s ability to govern! Mubarak seems to be set to continue to govern until his last heartbeat, as he mentioned a year ago. My cynical analysis makes me believe that he’s even enjoying having his son as a lightning rod for the growing opposition against his regime!
So if Mubarak stays in power until he dies, what happens then? The king makers will be the top 3-5 security and political leaders in power at the time. They will have the actual power to decide on who will be the next President. Nobody can predict their decision, or the decision making process – it’s all a black box. They are likely to select someone who maintains their personal interests and the interests of the institutions that they represent (mainly the security apparatus, the bureaucracy, and some business interests). They are also likely to pick someone who shares their view of the world. And most important, they will pick someone who doesn’t have an axe to grind with the former regime, and who would not come after them or their hidden fortunes. Gamal Mubarak is definitely not that man! He does not have a military or security background. His view of the world is very different from the traditional view shared by those dinosaurs. And, most important, he has his own cadres of cronies who are waiting to grab power and wealth from the previous generation of cronies. If Mubarak dies tomorrow, why would the security and bureaucracy establishment hand Gamal the Presidency? Highly unlikely!
So if the Gamal succession scenario is a myth, what is likely to happen? Let’s look at the way President Mubarak has picked his Prime Ministers over his three decade reign and the people that he has selected, as a way to understand his decision making process. In terms of the profile: he often picks insiders that he has known and observed over a number of years; he prefers individuals with mild political inclinations and no engagement, mostly technocrats; he puts a high premium on trust and loyalty; he dislikes ambitious personalities with strong leadership and charisma! His goal has always been to maintain stability and introduce any changes incrementally. He announces change at a time of his choice, and he always makes a point of not responding to the daily pressures of public opinion. And he always keeps his cards close to his chest. For thirty years Mubarak has consistently behaved this way, and I don’t know why this would change now.
What does this mean? It is likely that President Mubarak will throw his son under the bus and appoint a Vice President and heir when he feels that he is close to the end. He is likely to pick someone with a military background, a history of loyalty, limited visibility in the current political scene, no reputation for corruption, centrist political views, and the potential for broad respect and acceptance among the populace as well as the military and security establishment. Today, one person who fits this profile most is Lt. General Ahmed Shafiq, the current Minister of Civil Aviation (Profile: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/759/profile.htm); although I’m sure that there are few others with a similar profile. Someone with such a profile has the necessary credentials and resolve that would allow for a smooth transition, and would leave Mubarak with the type of legacy that he would like to have.
Amin Elmasry. 26 June 2010.