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Gamal Mubarak front-runner in Egypt succession

(Reuters)
Filed on April 13, 2010

CAIRO - No military pedigree, educated at an American-style university, has worked at a U.S. bank.

Gamal Mubarak’s credentials do not match those of Egypt’s past presidents, yet many of his compatriots see him as the likeliest to succeed his octogenarian father.

President Hosni Mubarak, 81, has not said if he will run for another six-year term in a presidential election next year, but if he does not his younger son is front-runner for the job thanks to his senior role in the ruling party machine.

Both deny planning any such handover, which would make Egypt the second Arab republic after Syria to engineer a “dynastic” succession in a region already studded with hereditary rulers.

A takeover by Gamal, 46, might please business executives who credit him with progress towards market liberalisation that began when his allies took cabinet economic portfolios in 2004.

Those reforms helped Egypt sail through the world financial crisis and have made it a darling of fund managers now.

The United States and other Western allies warm to Gamal’s support for Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and his criticism of religious extremism, which in Egypt amounts to an attack on the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

But critics of the reforms say they have done little to help the poor among Egypt’s 78 million people, a fifth of whom lives on less than $1 a day. They say executives with close ties to the ruling party have benefited the most from freer markets.

But Gamal argues that Egypt cannot stand still.

“We need audacious leaders who are able to prepare their country for the future and implement some reforms even when they are unpopular,” he told Politique Internationale in 2008.

“Such a leader must be brave enough to remain faithful to his convictions, despite all opposition.”

MILITARY AID

In a nation where all four presidents since the king was toppled in 1952 started out in the officer corps, Gamal’s civilian background has been cited as a possible handicap.

But his pro-U.S. outlook might win over the generals who have a vested interest in nurturing an alliance that has yielded billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Egypt.

“The interests of liberal pro-business reformers and the military in the case of Egypt are not mutually exclusive. In fact such interests have continued to converge,” IHS Global Insight analyst Sara Hassan said.

“The military would be quite happy with the status quo,” she said, cautioning that Gamal needed to win public popularity.

Opponents rail at what they call inherited power, unhappy that Egypt should follow the example of Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad took over from his father in 2000, possibly setting a trend for authoritarian leaders of Arab republics.

Critics also question whether Gamal has the common touch or charisma to connect with ordinary Egyptians.

His forays around the country in his role as head of the National Democratic Party’s policy unit get extensive coverage in state-run newspapers. He says the tours keep him in touch.

“You would not imagine how much one gets out of going out, sitting with the people and feeling how the efforts you make affect their lives,” Gamal told state television in 2006.

Youthful appeal

He has hosted Internet chats to woo young Egyptians, who cannot recall the era before his father began ruling in 1981.

Nicknamed “Jimmy”, he can be spotted at swanky restaurants or high-society weddings and has a youthful image, unlike his father’s aging contemporaries who still dominate politics.

When Egypt’s football team won a tense World Cup qualifying match against Algeria in November, state television swiftly picked out Gamal among the crowd cheering in the Cairo stadium.

Gamal studied at the privately-funded American University in Cairo and spent 11 years at Bank of America in Cairo and London, mainly on the investment side. He helped set up MedInvest, a London-based advisory and investment banking firm.

Early on, his older brother Alaa, whose business deals were the talk of Egypt, was more in the public limelight.

Gamal’s star began rising in 1995 when he took an executive post on the U.S.-Egyptian President’s Council set up by Mubarak and Al Gore, then U.S. vice president, to boost economic ties.

In 1998, Gamal and other business people formed the Future Generation Foundation, a non-profit organisation providing scholarships and leadership programmes for young Egyptians.

He joined the ruling party’s 25-member policy secretariat in 2000 and became its head in 2002. Among his close associates is steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, who is also a senior party member.

Gamal serves on the board of the Arab-African International Bank and the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, a think-tank.

In 2007, he married Khadiga El Gamal, 20 years his junior and daughter of a prominent Egyptian contractor. Their first child, the president’s first grand-daughter, was born in March.


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