Behind the affability

Gamal Mubarak met with Egyptian university students last week, fielding questions and comments about a range of sensitive issues: corruption, accountability and his possible inheritance of power from Mubarak the father.

The event was impressive. It was remarkable to see students talk so freely before the man many believe is being groomed as Egypt’s next president. It seems Gamal Mubarak’s campaign managers agreed to hold the meeting in a setting where young people could speak openly and candidly about their various concerns.

Until last year, such an event would have been inconceivable. At Gamal Mubarak’s last meeting with students, who were preparing to travel abroad on scholarships, one student, Shady al-Ghazaly Harb, was excluded from the gathering simply because he belonged to a liberal political party.

So what happened? Why was this meeting different than previous ones that were characterized by naive questions and ridiculous responses?

Answer: The plan to bequeath power to Gamal Mubarak, which some say had failed but which I believe had been quietly put on hold over the last period, has been revived in recent weeks, and has now moved into the early stages of implementation.

This time, the strategy is not to restrict public criticism, but to encourage it with the aim of giving the inheritance scheme a democratic semblance, so as to pull the rug from under the opposition forces.

Addressing a question from a student about presidential succession, Gamal Mubarak’s response was characteristically evasive and echoed statements he’s made on previous occasions: that he is committed to fulfilling his duties as the ruling National Democratic Party’s Policies Secretariat head.

In response to another question about corruption and alleged fraud in the Shura Council (upper house) elections last May, the president’s son asserted that those were individual cases each of which would be subject to the rule of law.

Gamal Mubarak didn’t offer anything new. He repeated the same things he’s been saying for the past five years, but perhaps with a little more tolerance for criticism.

His answers to crucial questions almost suggest he’s talking about another country, not Egypt.

He refused to recognize that election rigging has been systematic, not haphazard, under the ruling regime.

He refused to acknowledge the privileges granted to him by virtue of being the president’s son (and denied to many luminaries of his generation), which have served to fashion him as the only viable successor to the presidency.

For Egypt to emerge out of its current political quagmire, the inheritance scheme must be aborted. Our next president must represent a fresh alternative based on political experience and a deep sense of the grave problems our country faces in the coming period and the heavy price of the years we have lost.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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