- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

CAIRO For months the talk in Cairo political circles has been that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was grooming his 39-year-old son, Gamal, as his successor.

At the congress of the country's ruling National Democratic Party last week, the talk acquired a new reality when Gamal Mubarak was appointed to a specially created senior post of secretary for policy, in charge of reform.

The three-day meeting did not specifically refer to the succession. But with Mr. Mubarak now 76, his son's advancement seems very timely.

The congress has been the occasion of the greatest leap forward for Gamal Mubarak since his father first appointed him to the party's senior echelons two years ago.

The timing of the congress itself the first since 1992 following a succession of corruption scandals implicating officials close to three senior government ministers fueled speculation that the party's old guard was being targeted for a purge.

Egyptian newspapers treated the event as sensational. The left-wing opposition weekly Al Arabi speculated that three officials Deputy Prime Minister and party Secretary-General Yusif Wali, and his two deputies, Information Minister Safwat al-Sharif and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal al-Shazli were locked in a power struggle with Mr. Mubarak and his son.

But the old guard seems to have emerged from the party congress having merely rotated positions. Mr. Wali became party vice president (Mr. Mubarak is president), Mr. Sharif took over as secretary-general and Mr. Shazli remained in his post.

"The rivalry between Gamal and the old guard seems to be real," said a Western diplomat who wished to remain anonymous. "But they are not an obstacle to Gamal becoming president; the army is more important."

Egypt's military, while publicly not involved in national politics, is thought by many observers to be a more important center of power than the civilian leadership.

All Egyptian presidents since the 1952 coup that overthrew the British-backed monarchy have come from the army and it is believed unlikely that top brass would accept Gamal Mubarak, a civilian with no military experience, as president.

Nevertheless, the younger Mr. Mubarak now seems set to play an increasingly prominent role in the country's politics. As the leader of a faction of economic and social reformers consisting of successful businessmen and professionals, Gamal Mubarak himself a former investment banker with some experience with international financial institutions is pushing for the NDP to update its policies to face the challenge of globalization.

His rise also represents a clash of generations, with the party's old guard all in their 60s and 70s and who entered politics in the days of state socialism preferring stability over change. Gamal Mubarak, himself, has recognized that implementing reforms will be a struggle.

"To lead a process of change is not easy," he told supporters at the conference. "You will be faced with resistance."

Gamal Mubarak is potentially more popular with the general public, especially with those under 25, who form the majority of the population.

"The president wants Gamal to play a political role to counter the resistance to change" from the party's old guard, said Abdel Moneim Said, the director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies, a state-run think tank. "Because he is the president's son, he can do things others cannot."

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