Last Updated: Thu Dec 16, 2010 11:11 am (KSA) 08:11 am (GMT)

Leaked US cables show doubts over Egypt succession

Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak
Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak

Gamal Mubarak's chances of becoming Egypt's next president could suffer a blow if his father dies in office because he may lack the support of the powerful military, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

Egypt, a U.S. ally, is heading for a 2011 presidential election with no clear successor to the 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly three decades and has not said if he will seek another term.

Officials have said it is likely he will, but many Egyptians believe the 46-year-old Gamal, a former investment banker, is being groomed to take the reins of the Arab world's most populous country.

However, that prospect is uncertain given that the military has had a central role in choosing Egypt's last four presidents, who were all military officers, the cable said.

"Gamal did not serve as a military officer, and we believe he did not complete his compulsory service," said the cable by former U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone dated May 2007 and posted by WikiLeaks.

"Many observers opine that timing is the crucial factor for a potential Gamal presidency -- his power base is his father," the cable said.

"While he could conceivably be installed prior to Mubarak's death, the task would become far more difficult, although not insurmountable, once the pharaoh has departed the scene, and personal loyalties to him are in the past."

A Cairo University political science professor quoted in a September 2008 diplomatic cable said military officers told him the armed forces do not support Gamal and the military would rather seize power than allow Gamal to succeed his father if Mubarak died in office.

Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman would have to figure in any move to a Gamal Mubarak presidency, possibly as a transitional figure, Ricciardone's 2007 cable said, although it was unclear how Suleiman would respond to such a move if Mubarak died.

"An alleged personal friend of (Suleiman) tells us that (Suleiman) 'detests' the idea of Gamal as president, and that he also was 'deeply personally hurt' by Mubarak, who promised to name him vice president several years ago, but then reneged."

Gamal's pro-business cabinet allies are behind liberalization measures that secured rapid economic growth over the past six years -- but failed to win broad support among Egypt's poor, who say the benefits have not trickled down.

Most analysts see little chance of social upheaval in a transition of power but Mubarak has not picked a deputy, creating uncertainty over how a transfer will proceed.

IHS Global Insight analyst Sara Hassan said Suleiman's security background could make him an appealing choice for the military, but that it was unlikely the spy chief would challenge Gamal if there was broad support for the president's son.

"If the consensus was that Gamal Mubarak was the way forward, I think Omar Suleiman would toe the line and back him," she said.

Mubarak's successor is likely to be politically weaker and might strike an "anti-American tone" at the start of his term to shore up nationalist credentials and distance himself from his predecessor's policies, the 2007 cable said.

The successor might also "extend an olive branch" to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as previous Egyptian presidents such as Anwar Sadat did, it said.

In a cable released last week by WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, wrote in May 2009 that Mubarak would probably run for a sixth term in 2011, "inevitably" win and remain in office until he dies.

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