- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

CAIRO | Ten days after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak underwent surgery in Germany, there is growing uncertainty over his health and increased talk about who will eventually succeed him.

On Tuesday, state television aired footage of the president for the first time since his gall bladder was removed on March 6, showing Mr. Mubarak sitting at a small table in a hospital room and talking to two doctors.

Dr. Markus Buchler, who heads the medical team that performed the surgery, told reporters the president “was upbeat and in very good spirits as usual.”

“I am happy to say that his medical and general condition is improving in a satisfactory manner,” he said.

But there was no indication when Mr. Mubarak, who delegated authority to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif temporarily, would leave hospital.

Despite the almost daily upbeat statements on the president’s convalescence, anxiety over his health led to a drop on the Egyptian stock exchange. The index fell 2.4 percent on Sunday and 3.8 percent on Monday before clawing back some of the losses on Tuesday with a 1.5 percent gain.

Eissa Fathi, the manager of Strategic Company for Securities, attributed the rise to news that the president was expected to make an appearance on Egyptian television.

“This trend is expected to continue, especially because the drop that happened [on Sunday and Monday] was random,” he said.

Analysts say the president’s health, usually a closely guarded secret that has led to journalists being punished for questioning it, has intensified talk over his eventual succession.

“We face many questions. What would happen if harm befell the president, or whether he could carry out his role until the end of his fifth term,” said Imad Gad, an analyst with the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Mr. Mubarak, president since 1981, has no vice president. He has not indicated whether he will run for president again next year for a sixth term, only telling a party member at a convention: “God Willing.”

The expression could have been meant either as a yes or a polite evasion. His son Gamal has not commented on widespread speculation that he would succeed his father.

“There is widespread anxiety in Egypt and the drop in the stock exchange indicated that. There is lack of certainty on how power will be transferred and talk on the post-Mubarak period has started,” Mr. Gad said.

Like many analysts, Mr. Gad does not believe 46-year-old Gamal, a former investment banker who now holds an influential policy making post in his father’s National Democratic Party, has much chance of becoming president.

“I doubt the Gamal Mubarak scenario. The security and military apparatuses know there is discontent towards inheritance of power, especially with increased talk of the prodigality of those around him and suspicions of corruption by those around him,” Mr. Gad said.

He said he doubted the transfer of the post of commander in chief to an unpopular man who, unlike all the country’s presidents until now, does not have a military background.

Mr. Gad said a more likely scenario would be the military and the country’s powerful security services agreeing on a candidate, who would run as an independent, which would require support from 250 parliamentarians.

Amr Shobaki, another analyst with the Ahram Center, said Mr. Mubarak was not likely to run for another term because of his age and health.

The most probable outcome, he said, “was an alternative from a government apparatus that the military and security agree on.”

Several people have been talked about as successors, including the powerful head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman.

Another possible candidate, Mohammed ElBaradei, the former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has popular support and leadership capabilities, Mr. Shobaki said.

But he is not supported by government agencies and at any rate has conditioned running on constitutional reforms that Mr. Mubarak has dismissed.

Still, his arrival on the Egyptian political scene has diminished Gamal Mubarak’s chances, said Mustapha Kamel, an American University of Cairo political science professor.

When Mr. ElBaradei returned to Egypt on Feb. 20 after completing his term as the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he was greeted by a huge enthusiastic crowd, fueling speculation that he will challenge Mr. Mubarak for the country’s leadership.

“The entry of a person such as ElBaradei in the circle of those concerned with presidential nomination has made it difficult to think of Gamal Mubarak, because there is no comparison in terms of experience and national weight,” Mr. Kamel said.

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