Support for Gamal Mubarak gives leg up to parliamentary candidates

In the working class district of Darb al-Ahmar, Atef Abdu campaigns for a seat in parliament by sponsoring a clothing outlet that sells garments at low prices. The display had a huge banner for President Hosni Mubarak as “The Godfather of all Egyptians," followed by a banner for Gamal Mubarak as “The future bearer of the flag.”

Praising the president is a well-established trend in Egypt, especially during elections–but hailing his son is relatively new. Gamal Mubarak, 46, holds a high position in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and is said to be–despite official denials–the anticipated successor to his father for Egypt’s presidency.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reporters have seen similar banners in downtown Cairo, Alexandria and the Delta city of Mansoura.

"If the party tells us to post the president's pictures, we post them; if they tell us to post Gamal's, we post them," said Wahid Hamdan, an NDP candidate for the Old Cairo district. "People do this to gratify the regime, and I don't think it's a bad thing to do."

“It’s a message to say ‘I support Mubarak’s regime’,” says Tawfik Rashed, 24, an import company employee. Rashed, who resides in Heliopolis, an upper-middle-class district of Cairo, says he often sees such banners and billboards for either President Mubarak or Gamal Mubarak on commercial shops and cafes close to where he lives. “Apart from elections, these people want to appear important, well-connected and even patriotic,” adds Rashed.

He believes such banners give store-owners favor in the eyes of tax-collectors and other official administrators.

Besides candidates’ quest to associate themselves with the NDP, such banners also function to distance them from the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement.

Rashed says he would support a “well-known successful man, whether he’s posting a Mubarak banner or not.” “I don’t want Muslim Brothers. I don’t want problems,” he adds.

Analysts say that using the president’s image to give political legitimacy to NDP candidates is a phenomenon that has existed for decades.

“It’s a traditional trend for NDP members to post pictures of President Mubarak next to theirs to hint that they’re supportive of the regime,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst from the semi-official Al-Ahram Center for  Political and Strategic Studies. “The pattern passed down from Mubarak, the father, to his son…this allows him to drum up NDP support for his presidential candidacy.”

Over the past five months, the press has repeatedly reported on NDP-affiliated campaigns in support of a Gamal Mubarak presidency. These are new attempts to break through a political climate that has long opposed the younger Mubarak’s inheritance of the state’s top office.

“Despite repeated announcements by NDP officials that President Mubarak was the party’s nominee for upcoming presidential elections, Gamal Mubarak wants to break through the controversy related to his inheriting the state’s top post,” confirms Abdel Fattah. The younger Mubarak, however, denies any coordination with such campaigns. "I know nothing about the campaigns supporting me for the presidency, and I am not concerned about them," he said in a recent interview on Al-Arabiya satellite channel.

The NDP's official announcement of its candidates list, which included multiple party candidates competing against each other in some districts, exposed the ongoing rift during party primaries, after which many broke their ties with the NDP and decided to run as independents. By running multiple candidates in some constituencies, the ruling party appears to be on a quest to absorb the independents, whose victory is guaranteed by reinstating their connection to the party.

The Mubarak portraits, however, will not matter to voters frustrated by a long history of unfair presidential and parliamentary elections.

“Whether they post pictures of Mubarak or not, I’ll not vote in either of the coming elections,” said an assistant professor at Helwan University who preferred to remain anonymous. “The NDP will win anyway by using security forces, vote-rigging or any other means,” she said. “Why would anyone waste their time on pre-determined elections?”

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