Gamal’s lack of military background might undermine his presidential bid, say US cables

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, is likely to seek re-election next year and serve for the rest of his life, according to US diplomatic cables leaked on Thursday.

The document released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and posted online by British daily The Guardian also suggests Egypt's 2011 presidential election "will not be free or fair."

"The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011, and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run again, and, inevitably, win," said the cable from the US embassy in Cairo dated May 2009 and signed by ambassador Margaret Scobey.

"Despite incessant whispered discussions, no one in Egypt has any certainty about who will eventually succeed Mubarak nor under what circumstances," it said.

However, in a more recent cable, written in February 2010 and leaked to Al-Masry Al-Youm, US diplomats showed less certainty about Mubarak's possible bid for a sixth term.

“Presidential elections will be held in 2011. It is still unclear whether President [Hosni] Mubarak, in power for over 25 years, will decide to run again. Some believe that he is grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak, to succeed him as President,” says the more recent cable, sent just weeks before Mubarak went for gallbladder surgery in Heidelberg, Germany.

The operation led many observers to speculate about the 82-year-old president's deteriorating health.

Mubarak has not yet confirmed whether or not he will run in the 2011 presidential election.

Safwat al-Sherif, secretary-general of the National Democratic Party, said in November that Mubarak   remains the NDP’s nominee for the upcoming presidential elections “unless he chooses otherwise.”

The May 2009 cable named Mubarak's son Gamal, 47,–a banker who has risen through the ranks of his father's party–as a "likely contender" along with intelligence boss Omar Suleiman and Arab League chief and Egypt's former Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa.

But the cable was quick to express some doubts about Gamal's chances of assuming a presidency that, for the past 60 years, has been reserved exclusively for members of the military.

"Mubarak's ideal of a strong but fair leader would seem to discount Gamal Mubarak to some degree, given Gamal's lack of military experience, and may explain Mubarak's hands off approach to the succession question," said the cable.

"Indeed, he seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition."

Many local and international analysts has been wondering about the possible role of the military establishment in deciding who will be Egypt’s next president. All of Egypt’s four presidents since 1952 came from the army. However, some experts believe that the role of the army has been gradually confined to the realm of defense since the 1970s.

During the last few years, several officials from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have said that Egypt is prepared to have a “civilian president.”

The release of the cable follows the 28 November and 5 December parliamentary election in which Mubarak's ruling NDP clinched 474 of 508 seats, bolstering its grip ahead of the presidential vote.

The opposition garnered only 14 seats after most of them boycotted the polls, which monitors said were marked by widespread fraud.

The United States and European Union both expressed their concern over irregularities and violence during the election process.

Cairo has dismissed the fraud charges and called criticism of the election from its US ally as amounting to "unacceptable interference" in Egypt's domestic affairs.

The 2009 embassy cable describes Mubarak as "a tried and true realist, innately cautious and conservative, and has little time for idealistic goals."

"Mubarak has no single confidante or adviser who can truly speak for him, and he has prevented any of his main advisers from operating outside their strictly circumscribed spheres of power," it said.

Gamal Mubarak and a handful of economic ministers have input on economic and trade matters, but Mubarak will likely resist further economic reform if he views it as potentially harmful to public order and stability.

It also said Mubarak was "a classic Egyptian secularist who hates religious extremism and interference in politics" for whom the opposition Muslim Brotherhood "represent the worst."

The Brotherhood won a fifth of parliament's seats at the last election in 2005, but failed to garner any in the latest polls.

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