By Geoffrey Paul
June 14, 2009
Egypt is not exactly a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. Although President Mubarak, now in his fifth term, authorised a multi-party system of presidential elections in 2005, matters were so rigged that almost nobody else had a chance of winning. He would probably win once more if he stood again when his term ends in 2011. But he will then be 83.
Egypt is key to the maintenance of peace in the Middle East. Although her peace treaty with Israel has never blossomed into the warm and friendly neighbourly relations that so many Israelis hoped for, she has rigorously upheld the legal terms of the treaty and frequently placed a cooling hand on those local and regional hotheads who would like to turn the cold peace into a hot war.
Who follows Mubarak is important to the continuation of tranquility on Israel's southern border. Nothing is certain in the Middle East, but current signs are that, as has happened in Morocco, Syria and Jordan, a son will follow a father into the seat of power and Husni Mubarak will be succeeded by his 45-year old son, Gamal (known to the “street” in Cairo as “Jimmy”).
Gamal Mubarak's major problem is that he is totally lacking in charisma and suffers a degree of shyness that makes it difficult for him to communicate outside of a small circle of family, friends and officials. In his favour is that he has run the ruling party, that he understands the importance of the economy to Egypt's future wellbeing and that he shares his father's commitment to maintaining non-confrontational relations with Israel.
Whether he is tough enough to control the dark forces that always lurk just below the surface of Egyptian political life and to command the loyalty of the army (in which he has not served) is something which - like so much in the region - is in the chapter still to be written.