A new consensus presidential candidate is emerging in Egypt as a possible successor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak's plans to transfer power to his son, Gamal, have run into stiff resistance from the old guard in the military and the ruling National Democratic Party. In this latest variation to the succession plan, former air force chief and current minister of civil aviation Ahmed Shafiq is being presented as a potential bridge between Egypt's old and new guard.
A STRATFOR source in Egypt's diplomatic corps has reported a recent shift in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's plan to eventually have his son, Gamal, succeed him, a plan that is intended to bridge a growing chasm between the old and new guard elite in Egypt. Indeed, the Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 parliamentary elections brought to light deepening fissures within Egypt's ruling circle over Mubarak's succession strategy. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) trounced the opposition as expected, but the elections put the NDP in the uncomfortable position of trying to legitimize an election that was widely believed to have been marred with irregularities and designed to keep a tight lid on opposition contenders, such as those from the Muslim Brotherhood or Mohamed ElBaradei's National Assembly for Change. After the elections, prominent members of the old guard, led by NDP Secretary-General Safwat al-Sharif, publicly criticized the manner in which the elections were conducted and warned that such irregularities would adversely affect Egypt's foreign relations. The criticism does not stem from any newfound desire on the part of the old guard to develop a more pluralistic political system; rather, it was a tool used to publicly voice opposition to Mubarak's plans for the new government and to demonstrate the growing rift within the ruling elite. The implicit warning was that the longer the president allows these divisions to simmer, the more opposition groups will be galvanized to exploit these rifts and stage a meaningful challenge to the president in a tense election year. Mubarak is 82 years old and facing health complications. As such, he has long been trying to shape a plan to have his son Gamal eventually assume control of the presidency. This plan encountered resistance during the past year, as stalwart members of Egypt's old guard in the military and the NDP made clear that they disapproved of the new guard's call for a more liberal economic model and would not support Gamal's becoming president. Mubarak then adjusted his plans to have his closest adviser and Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, become vice president and then succeed Mubarak when he is no longer able to rule. According to this plan, Suleiman was expected to remain president for roughly one year before passing power to Gamal. To further ease the transition, Mubarak then publicly indicated that he himself would run for re-election in the summer of 2011 while making arrangements for Suleiman to take over should he become incapacitated. However, this plan has also proven unsatisfactory to the military elite. Though Suleiman is a powerful figure in Egypt and has long been thought of as the most likely consensus candidate to succeed Mubarak, concerns persist among the old guard that Suleiman's tenure would be short-lived given his old age and alleged health problems. These old guard members would prefer one of their own from the military to succeed Mubarak, one who would have the staying power to stave off a transition to Gamal. Mubarak's replacement candidate for Suleiman (at least for now) appears to be former air force chief and current minister of civil aviation Ahmed Shafiq. Shafiq has a close relationship with the president (he worked under Mubarak's command when Mubarak led the Egyptian air force in the 1970s). According to a STRATFOR source, Mubarak's decision to appoint Shafiq as the minister of civil aviation in 2002 was a sign that Shafiq was being groomed for a more serious position, as most Egyptian generals do not typically get the opportunity to acquire civilian experience in the government. Such civilian experience enhances the credibility of a retired general if and when he is appointed to a more senior political office. As The Wall Street Journal reported in a Dec. 10 article citing diplomatic sources, a column by the editor-in-chief of state-owned Mussawar magazine highlighting Shafiq’s credentials was a good indication that conditions are being prepped for Shafiq to enter the political limelight. As the past several months have shown, Egypt's succession plans are subject to frequent modifications. Amid all the adjustments, though, a single trend is becoming more apparent: The old guard, well-represented in the military, is becoming increasingly influential in political civilian matters as Mubarak nears the end of his presidency.