British foreign minister Jack Straw met for an hour last
week with Gamal Mubarak, the youngest son of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. According to a British official cited
in al-Qanat, an Arabic online daily, Straw met Gamal
because he "is a very important person who certainly
enjoys great influence." The meeting was significant
because it took place less than a month after President Mubarak appointed Gamal to a high-level post in the
National Democratic Party (NDP), Egypt's governing political institution. Despite repeated, emphatic, and official
assertions to the contrary, all indications point to Gamal
being groomed to succeed his father.

Hosni Mubarak assumed Egypt's presidency in 1981 and
now ranks among the Middle East's most veteran leaders. Egypt's two previous presidents both served until their
deaths (Gamal Abdel Nasser by natural causes; Anwar
Sadat by assassination), and there is no sign that Mubarak
anticipates retiring from public life when his fourth six-year
term expires in 2004. Unlike both his predecessors,
however, the seventy-four-year-old Mubarak has never designated a vice president.

According to Article 82 of the Egyptian constitution, if the president, "due to any temporary obstacle, is unable to
carry out his functions, he shall delegate his powers to a
Vice-President." Article 84 states that in the absence of a
vice president, " the Speaker of the People's Assembly
shall temporarily assume the Presidency."

Constitutional contingency plans notwithstanding, there
are practical reasons for anxiety over future leadership in Egypt. Mubarak has been the target of at least two
close-call assassination attempts. The first was a June 26, 1995, attack by the radical group al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The second, believed perpetrated
by an unaffiliated individual, took place on September 6,
1999, in Port Said, Egypt. These attacks were poignant reminders that Mubarak would not be ra'is forever.

Gamal's Appointments
Although he lacks an appointed successor, Mubarak began
to focus attention on his son Gamal in 2000 by appointing
him to the general secretariat of the NDP. The president
also named his son as head of the party's Youth and Development Committee.

Egypt was soon abuzz with the rumor that Gamal was
being groomed to succeed his father. But both Mubaraks denied any plan to create a family legacy in Egypt's presidential palace. " We are not a monarchy," said
Gamal in 2000. The following year, he offered a more
nuanced formulation: " Neither the president nor I would
agree that I seek, accept or be offered any executive post while my father is the chief executive."

His father also downplayed the notion of his son's succession: " I cannot determine who my successor will be according to my whim. . . . If he does not have the support
[of the people] the process begins again. If I say this or
that person should be my successor, the people can
reject him."

Mubarak's senior foreign policy advisor, Osama el-Baz,
insisted in a September 2002 Newsweek interview that
"Gamal Mubarak is not running for any official office. He's interested in public issues, like any young man interested
in the future of his country, but he's not going to pursue
any official position."

Days later, however, before a televised audience and an estimated 6,000 powerful bureaucrats, the NDP named
Gamal as secretary-general for policies, the party's third
most powerful position. His father even hinted about plans
for his son's succession: " Broadening the participation of young people in political life," said the president, "is an essential guarantee of a smooth handover of responsibility from one generation to the next."

Who Is Gamal?
Gamal, thirty-eight years old, is the younger of Mubarak's
two sons. A graduate of the American University in Cairo,
he served as an executive for Bank of America International
in London from 1988 to 1994. Following that, he was executive director of the Egyptian MedInvest Associations
Ltd, a financial services company. Recognized as a
proponent of economic liberalism, democratization, and bureaucratic reform, Gamal serves as head of the Future Generation Foundation, a protopolitical organization
that describes its aims as preparing young Egyptians for
the job market and increasing their political awareness.
After he formally joined the NDP in January 2000, there
was talk that he would vie for parliament in the November 2000 elections. In the end, however, he chose not to run.

The Syrian Model
Will Hosni Mubarak buck the precedent of his two
predecessors and arrange for his son's succession? If so,
he would take Egypt further away from its role as Arab trendsetter and down the path of leadership-by-inheritance already trod by another Arab republic, Syria.

The Asad family story is now well known: Former Syrian strongman Hafiz al-Asad first groomed one son, Basil, and
then turned to another, Bashar, when the former was killed
in a 1994 automobile accident. An ophthalmologist by
training, Bashar was whisked up the military ladder
to prepare for leadership. Hafiz, known to be in poor
health, further ensured his son's succession by purging potential challengers and then arranging, shortly before
his death, for Syria's parliament to amend its constitution
by lowering the legal age for the presidency from forty to
thirty-four. After Hafiz's June 10, 2000, death, Bashar won
a reported 97.29 percent of the presidential vote and
formally succeeded his father.

There is much that President Mubarak could have taken
from the Bashar episode. The first lesson is the lack of
popular opposition to the principle of arranging for one's
son to succeed -- what in the West would be derisively
termed nepotism. Although Syria was ridiculed in
international and regional media, there were virtually no
critical voices inside the country to stand in the way of
either the elder Asad's plans or the younger Asad's aspirations. In Egypt, the arrest and jailing of Saad Eddin Ibrahim -- who was among the few Egyptian voices
who criticized the possibility that the Mubarak family would follow the Asad model -- has had the effect of further
silencing any prospective opposition.

The second lesson Mubarak may have learned is the importance of giving Gamal significant policy responsibility
well in advance of succession; hence his NDP appointment. This could preempt the sort of international criticism Bashar suffered for having little experience in government when
he took office.

The third lesson is the necessity of clearing the path for his
son. Whereas this required the sacking and public humbling
of certain officials in Syria, Mubarak is able to achieve these ends by keeping the vice presidency vacant and making
sure no other public figure achieves significant national popularity.

Since 1952, all Egyptian heads of state, including President Mubarak, have been military men -- Gamal is not. His succession could usher in a new era of civilian, and perhaps liberal, rule.

The likelihood of this, however, is by no means certain.
While the NDP is Egypt's most powerful party, it is infused
with two decades of old guard corruption and bureaucratic inertia. Even if Gamal's commitment to democratic, liberal reform is real, it will take more than the herculean efforts
of one person to remake the NDP into a vibrant force for positive change.

Meanwhile, the senior Mubarak seems to want to avoid too hasty a process of empowering his son, evidenced by the conspicuous absence of Gamal among the list of eight presidential appointees to the NDP's politburo.
Nonetheless, Gamal does hold a very powerful post in the
NDP, answering only to two close associates of his father, longtime information minister and current NDP secretary-general Safwat al-Sherif and the NDP's number two, Kamal

If Gamal achieves success in reforming the NDP, this might legitimize his possible appointment as political heir and perhaps show that he has what it takes to lead a country
as powerful, proud, and important as Egypt. If he fails to implement reform and falls in with Egypt's old guard, then
his rise to the top will only affirm a sad trend of dynastic mediocrity among other Arab states.

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute.

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