Egypt signals President Mubarak here to stay

By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Cairo

image captionMr Mubarak, with world leaders at the 1996 Middle East peace talks, has spent three decades in power

There has been the strongest official indication to date that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will run for re-election next year, despite concerns about his health.

Hosni Mubarak is aged 82 and travelled to Germany for gall bladder surgery earlier this year, leading to much speculation over whether his son, Gamal, might be in the process of being groomed to succeed him.

But in an interview with the American Arab channel Alhurra, the head of media for the ruling party, Ali Eldin Hilal, said: "The candidate of the National Democratic Party will be President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak... This is the will of the leadership of the party."

Mr Hilal explained that the nomination would only be formally adopted a month or two before the election, which is expected in the autumn of 2011.

Nevertheless such a clear statement from such a senior official will almost certainly have been endorsed by the president himself.

It suggests that Mr Mubarak both wants to continue in office, and believes he will be well enough to do so, even though he would be aged 83 at the time of the election and 89 by the end of the next six-year term in office.

Daily pictures of him travelling, carrying out official duties and meeting foreign dignitaries are part of a campaign to underline that he is still fit and well.

Making the announcement through an American TV interview sends the signal directly to Washington as well.

The news will come as little surprise to most Egyptians.

image captionThe hint is seen as a blow to Gamal Mubarak's presidential ambitions

Mr Mubarak once pledged to continue serving Egypt while he had breath in his body.

But the timing so long before the presidential contest is a bit more unexpected.

It seems to be aimed at calming nerves before parliamentary elections scheduled for 28 November.

A recent round of arrests of opposition activists, and the tightening of media controls, suggests the government is particularly nervous about the parliamentary vote.

There is concern over the economic situation, which has seen a big rise in food prices.

Those in power may also believe that speculation over Gamal Mubarak being groomed for power may be putting off voters from supporting the ruling National Democratic Party.

Hence, the logic goes, the need to reaffirm Hosni Mubarak's position.

This will certainly be seen as a big blow to Gamal Mubarak's presidential ambitions, and a further sign that he does not enjoy his father's unequivocal support.

Various unofficial petitions began springing up over the summer calling on Gamal to stand for president.

Those close to Gamal denied he was providing any support to the campaigns, but some commentators believed otherwise and Gamal issued no call for the campaigns to cease.

In fairly withering comments, Ali Eldin Hilal criticised those organising the petitions for Gamal as being motivated, either to try to get seats in parliament, to make money, or to achieve other personal goals.

Mr Hilal is known to belong to a faction in the ruling party known as the "old guard" who have their differences with the reformists gathered around Gamal Mubarak.

"We are certain that President Mubarak will be the president as long as he lives," said the leader of one opposition faction, Omar al-Ghazali.

"Whoever has bet on Mubarak junior is mistaken and does not know the nature of the political system in Egypt."

But another commentator, Imad Gad, of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, was more sceptical.

"They are having us on," he said. "They just don't want to open up the presidential campaign before the legislative elections next month."

Nevertheless, with this official announcement from a close political ally, President Mubarak has boxed himself in.

Barring a big deterioration in his health, it will be difficult for him to change course.

After three decades in power, he wants to go on.

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