Will Mubarak run again in 2011?

Ali Eddin Helal, media secretary for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), affirmed three days ago that the NDP would nominate President Hosni Mubarak in next year’s presidential race. Helal’s statements have sparked controversy as they supposedly put an end to any uncertainty about who the NDP will field in the 2011 election.

Helal’s statement contradicts another one that he gave last month, where he said Gamal Mubarak was a potential NDP candidate for president. He even came close to suggesting that Gamal was the NDP's final choice, especially after a campaign to support Gamal's presidential bid had hit the streets of Cairo.

Helal's latest statements do not reveal anything new. The president himself has stated in the past that he will remain in power until his last breath. But reading Helal’s statements within the context of speculations about the future that have been circulating in private, one can almost certainly conclude that Mubarak–now 83 years old–may not be able to run for another term and that Gamal may not necessarily be the ruling party’s alternative.

Statements by Egyptian officials about these matters have taken a sharp turn in recent weeks. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit previously said that Mubarak is the NDP's candidate, before Helal echoed the same message.

To my mind, all these affirmations that Mubarak will run for another term probably suggest that he will not. These statements are usually made after intense bouts of activity on the president’s part, in an effort to demonstrate he remains in full control. In Egypt, such displays of certainty on the part of the political elite can just as easily signify the opposite.

Asked if Egypt is ready for a non-military president after Mubarak, Helal praised the current regime for laying the legislative foundations for civilian rule. The NDP, he added, would choose a suitable candidate (a possible reference to Gamal), in accordance with the constitution, to lead Egypt in the coming period.

Deep down, however, Helal knows this is only one possibility, since in reality the Egyptian security establishment, the body which holds real political power in Egypt, has yet to consent unanimously to a Gamal presidency brought about through elections. Moreover, “succession through the ballot box” would still be considered by many to be an illegitimate transfer of power.
Helal's uncertain statements about Gamal’s prospects in fact tell us more about the current political situation than his seemingly conclusive remarks about Mubarak’s re-nomination . Helal’s latest pronouncement will certainly open the door for all kinds of speculation about the future. But of all the possible scenarios that can unfold next year, Mubarak’s re-nomination now seems the least likely.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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