With the May 2011 presidential election fast approaching, Egypt’s ever-fluctuating political scene has made it difficult for analysts to agree upon the likely winner of the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) nomination for president.  Currently headed by President Hosni Mubarak, the NDP, which has enjoyed uncontested rule in Egypt since its creation by President Anwar Sadat in 1978, is Egypt’s king-making party and its presidential nominee widely considered to be the de facto election winner.   Amidst the current political confusion, some observers believe that the NDP nominee will be President Mubarak’s son, Gamal Mubarak, who appears to have been groomed for president.  Others claim that the country’s political climate indicates that the elder Mubarak will run for a sixth term.  Still others suggest that Omar Suleiman, the director of Egypt’s national intelligence agency, might be a logical choice for the party.  Opinions are varied, but no one can be sure what the NDP will do.  And that is exactly the point, as the Mubarak government appears engaged in a deliberate campaign to obscure the likely outcome of the upcoming presidential elections. While some of this may be intended to prevent opposition parties from uniting against the Mubarak regime, this obscurantism may tell a more complicated story, one in which Gamal Mubarak is being groomed to become Egyptian president at some point in the future, but where Hosni Mubarak may ultimately be chosen as the NDP candidate for the 2011 election.

The Rise of Gamal Mubarak: A Long-Term View of the Presidency

Under President Mubarak’s control, the NDP and its officials have recently issued statements regarding the Party’s probable presidential nominee, which contradict political developments on the ground.  The Party itself has publicly denied that Gamal Mubarak is being prepared to run for president, while the October 20th statement by Aliedin Hillal, a NDP member, declared that “the next president is Hosni Mubarak.” Attempts to downplay a potential Gamal run for the presidency are not limited to these recent initiatives, but rather date back several years. The 2005 Parliamentary election, touted as Egypt’s “first democratic” election in which the government temporarily loosened restrictions on opposition parties, were seen by many as a red herring intended to increase the country’s democratic credibility in advance of an eventual Gamal takeover in 2011.  As prospects for the drawn-out Mubarak presidency to transform into a quasi-monarchy became more delineated, signs of growing unrest began to emerge.  To quell this disquiet, in 2006 Gamal Mubarak issued a public statement, asserting that he would not run for the presidency.

Despite these initiatives, Gamal Mubarak’s recent political rise in the country strongly supports speculation that he is likely to become president, if not in 2011 then at some point in the future.  In the last several years, Mubarak Jr. has emerged as a prominent figure in the domestic, Egyptian political scene. He has worked to develop rapport with the Egyptian people by reaching out and visiting different areas of Egypt, discussing his position on issues and addressing public concerns.  While these visits and public appearances are not officially carried out under the banner of a presidential campaign, the underlying import of these initiatives is at times more apparent. In June 2010, a pro-Gamal campaign, parading itself as a grassroots movement, emerged in Egypt. The campaign employs various pop culture tropes to endear Egyptians to Gamal, including appropriating nationalist songs like ‘Gamal, Dearest of the Millions,’ which had originally been written and performed for Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s immensely popular first president. As a party official from the NDP confided to an Associated Press reporter the campaign is meant to be a temporary trial carried out by the Party to test Gamal’s popularity amongst average Egyptians.

On the international front, Gamal’s inclusion in meetings with Egypt’s foreign allies, such as his involvement in several recent state visits to the United States and his participation in negotiations and strategic meetings during these trips, further increase the likelihood that he will be put forth as Egyptian president at some point in the future. These foreign duties have little to do with Gamal’s current role within Egyptian politics – his official position as the General Secretary of the NDP’s Policy Committee does not require that he embark on these foreign relations endeavors.  As such, Gamal’s presence on these trips is more likely a move to introduce him to U.S. officials and to secure the U.S. government’s continued support for Egypt once Gamal takes the presidential reigns.  As U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, “I had a wide-ranging talk with Gamal Mubarak, whom I’ve met previously. I don’t want to go into the substance of a private meeting, but I can say that Mr. Mubarak is highly intelligent and fully conversant in the issues affecting U.S.-Egyptian relations and Middle East peace. He is a strong and sensible advocate of Middle East peace and of close cooperation with the United States.”

Hosni for President: 2011

What these various facts and initiatives do not establish is when Gamal will ascend to the presidency.  As the political situation inside Egypt currently stands, the NDP’s interests are likely to be better served by nominating Hosni Mubarak for the 2011 election.  Though the NDP has a firm grip over the country, Gamal’s nomination would be a direct and blatant confirmation of the government’s democratic deficit. Perhaps most significantly, the nomination would discredit American claims about Egypt’s admirable democratic credentials and likely do some damage to Egypt-U.S. relations.  As such, a Gamal presidency would be more easily achieved upon the elder Mubarak’s death in office, a circumstance that would allow the new president to take advantage of the ensuing power vacuum and walk into the presidential seat with substantial popular support. Rather than rising to the presidency through a rigged election, Gamal could present himself as the country’s savior (a long the lines of Gamal Abdel Nasser), rescuing the country from political instability and possible rule by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course, these predictions may be just as faulty as the other multifarious speculations surrounding the NDP’s presidential nominee.  Nonetheless, what is certain is that the Mubarak government and the NDP have effectively obscured Egypt’s political atmosphere, keeping citizens unsure and the opposition unsettled about the single most profound development in Egypt in the last 30 years.

*Nancy Elshami is a staff writer at Muftah