As Gamal Mubarak seeks his father’s throne, will hereditary succession again restrict democratisation in an Arab state?
|A banner with Gamal and Hosni Mubarak in parliamentary polls read “The leadership and the future”[Reuters]|
It will not be easy for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to persuade the military elite to accept his son Gamal as his successor, according to leaked US embassy memos.
But Gamal is among the most likely contenders to the top job along with Omar Suleiman, the spy chief, and “dark horse” Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, according to the cables released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday.
“It is hard to argue that Gamal is not being groomed for the presidency,” then US ambassador Francis Ricciardone wrote in a May 2007 secret cable, noting his “increasingly robust role” in the ruling National Democratic Party.
A presidential election will be held next year, and the ailing Mubarak has still not announced whether he will run again.
Citing strict legal requirements for candidacy and weak opposition leadership, Ricciardone wrote that there were few other Egyptian personalities other than Gamal “with the national stature and political capital to seriously contend for the presidency.”
Due to the paranoia of the Egyptian dictatorship, the cable said, no other name can safely or respectfully be raised as a contender.
“Many in the Egyptian elite see his succession as positive, as his likely continuation of the current status quo would serve their business and political interests.”
But the memo suggests the military elite may have different preferences.
“A key stumbling block for a Gamal candidacy could be the military,” Ricciardone wrote, noting that the four Egyptian presidents since the 1952 coup that overthrew the monarchy came from military ranks, including Hosni Mubarak.
The cables conclude that, if before his death or if he steps aside, the president might be able to install Gamal, a 47-year-old banker-turned-politician.
If the elder Mubarak dies in office, however, the succession scenario becomes “messier,” with no guarantee of military support for Gamal but also few other clear alternatives, according to the cable.
“The military has historically been the ultimate guarantor of the president’s rule,” the document said.
“Gamal did not serve as a military officer, and we believe he did not complete his compulsory service.
“His power base is his father, and so while he could conceivably be installed prior to Mubarak’s death, the task would become far more difficult … once the pharaoh has departed the scene,” it added.
Mubarak never appointed a vice-president, further complicating the question of who will succeed him.
The cable says Suleiman, who has headed Egypt’s intelligence service since the early 1990s, was often cited as likely to be named vice-president and was “deeply personally hurt” when Mubarak reneged, according to an alleged personal friend of the spy chief.
“Many of our contacts believe that Suleiman, because of his military background, would at the least have to figure in in any succession scenario for Gamal, possibly as a transitional figure,” the memo said.