25 years after Sadat's assassination, many call Egypt politically paralyzed
CAIRO, Egypt On the 25th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's assassination, Egypt faces an uncertain political future with most democracy reform efforts stalled and the country obsessively focused on the possibility that the current president's son will succeed him.
President Hosni Mubarak, now 78, was a general and vice president, sitting beside Sadat, when the then-president was gunned down at a military parade in Cairo on Oct. 6, 1981, by militants hoping to impose Islamic rule. Mubarak has been president since.
The leaders of the main group of conspirators that killed Sadat have since renounced violence, and have said killing him was a mistake. Some even consider him a martyr.
"If I could turn back time, we wouldn't have killed Sadat. We would have appreciated his value," said Nageh Ibrahim, a leader of the Egyptian Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), who spent 24 years in prison for plotting Sadat's assassination and was recently released.
But most citizens of this country _ the Arab world's most populous and a key U.S. ally _ are not focused on Sadat. They instead fret over what they call a stagnant political scene, low quality of life and their growing fear that Mubarak's son will succeed him.
"Twenty five years without big events _ no imagination and no inspiration," wrote columnist Wael Abdel Fattah in the independent weekly Al-Fagr. "The only thing that was inflated is the police ... a huge, mythical beast to protect the president. ... All those around him are partners in the deal _ the 'Stability Deal.'"
Opposition columnist Magdi Mehna said Egyptians feel their country lacks any clear goal or vision, except what he sarcastically called "the collapse of the infrastructure, train accidents, ferries sinking, people lacking clean water and widespread corruption."
Mubarak has never appointed a vice president, saying he has not found someone suitable and is not required to by the constitution.
But opposition groups believe the post is deliberately kept vacant so Gamal Mubarak, Mubarak's youngest son, can succeed him. Such a transfer of power is the talk of Cairo despite father-and-son denials.
Adding to the speculation is the fact that close aides to Gamal Mubarak regularly call him ideal for the job, despite his own protestations that he won't be a candidate.
"Gamal Mubarak is one of the best, leading figures in the party, and its only natural that when election time comes, each party nominates the best leaders they have," said Hossam Badrway, a close aide to the president's son.
Hosni Mubarak is believed to be in generally good health despite past knee and back problems and some hearing deficiency, and was elected last year to a term that does not end until 2011. But some believe he is eager to hand over power.
Gamal Mubarak, who is 42, has risen rapidly through the ranks of his father's National Democratic Party in the past four years and now is deputy secretary general.
He met secretly with U.S. President George W. Bush and other top White House officials in May, and Bush also recently praised a trade minister close to Gamal Mubarak's circle _ both events that led normal Egyptians to assume the United States has endorsed him as heir, despite U.S. claims that it has no role in the matter.
Two weeks ago, it also was Gamal Mubarak who called for Egypt to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful ends _ a call that was welcomed by the United States.
The elder Mubarak, meanwhile, on Thursday said during a televised speech that his government "will go on building the pillars of our Egyptian democracy and next year will be the year of constitutional reforms."
But a flurry of recent democracy efforts has stalled, and the United States is widely viewed as no longer pressing Egypt hard on reform.
Kifaya, a leading secular opposition movement, broke the taboo of criticizing Mubarak and his family and held a series of high-profile protests in recent years. But constitutional reforms have been spotty and parliamentary elections a year ago were marred by widespread violence, much of it by police who tried to prevent opposition supporters from voting.
The government also postponed elections for local councils for two years, apparently to avert a strong showing by the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, emergency laws that give the government wide powers to detain suspects have remained in force since Sadat's assassination.
The Brotherhood _ Egypt's biggest Islamic opposition group _ has joined the anti-Gamal movement. Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, spokesman for its bloc in Parliament, said recently that his group would "struggle to prevent inheritance of power."
The group, banned since 1954, won 88 seats in parliament in 2005, after members ran as independents. It renounced violence in the 1970s, but is subject to frequent crackdowns.
Gamal, an investment banker before he entered politics, presents himself as an economic reformer. But the opposition sees him as aloof, surrounding himself with rich businessmen.
Egyptian officials say the country's economy is growing at a rate of 5 percent but acknowledge the benefits haven't reached most people. About 20 percent of the country's 73 million people remain under the poverty line.
As the Oct. 6 anniversary approached, many columnists lamented an Egypt that "has all the qualities of an occupied country," as one wrote.
"We do nothing except rejecting in the media that the son, Gamal Mubarak, inherits what remains of us," wrote one, Howeida Taha, in the pan Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
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