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In Egypt, some see first salvo in Mubarak succession plan

In recent weeks, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian government has allowed posters with the slogan 'Gamal Mubarak: dream of the poor' to be posted around Cairo.

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The recent moves, says Prof. Nafaa, "are a step for marketing him. ... they are preparing the theater” for the transition. He does not think Hosni Mubarak has yet made the final decision on whether to run in next year’s elections, however.

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But many Egyptians see proof in Gamal’s recent trip to Washington that the president has made a decision. While it wasn't the first time Gamal accompanied his father to the US, and a State Department official said the younger Mubarak did not attend any meetings at the State Department or the White House, that has not stopped Egyptian rumors that he met with the key players in the peace process.

“My analysis is that the Israelis are convinced that Gamal will be a guarantee that the peace treaty with Israel will be preserved and respected, and otherwise there might be a risk,” says Nafaa.

Gamal campaign posters not ripped down

One sign that seems fairly concrete in a nation where conspiracy theories abound is the fact that the posters endorsing a Gamal presidency have not been torn down by the regime. When similar posters appeared recently urging Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to run for president, they were quickly removed by state security. Gamal’s photo, however, continues to gaze down on Cairo residents.

The NDP has distanced itself from the group that put up the posters, which is led officially by a former member of a leftist opposition party, Magdi Al Kurdi. But where the campaign gets the money to hang posters and for events like handing out meat in a poor neighborhood is unclear. One member of the campaign says privately it's backed by Ibrahim Kamal, a prominent businessman and member of the NDP’s Policy Committee, but the campaign officially denied this.

Nafaa says the group may be an effort by businessmen in the NDP, who would benefit from Gamal’s policies, to pressure President Mubarak to step down and allow his son to run for the presidency next year. Much of the support for Gamal, who leads Egypt’s economic liberalization program, comes from wealthy businessmen in a country where about 40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day. Others consider the campaign a trial balloon to gauge public support for the president’s son.

Mustapha Kamal Al Sayyid, a professor at the American University in Cairo, says the campaign is an attempt to set the stage for Gamal in the event that the elder Mubarak cannot run next year.

“This is plan B for President Mubarak,” says Prof. Sayyid. “He does intend to become the candidate of the NDP, but if his health deteriorates or he is incapable of becoming the candidate, some kind of popular support will have been built for Gamal Mubarak.”

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