March 15, 2010 | 2342 GMTSEAN GALLUP/Getty ImagesAn Egyptian Embassy spokesman in Washington denied reports March 15 that longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has died. STRATFOR sources say Mubarak is alive, but that the 81-year-old leader is not expected to seek another term in office. The long-ruling party may face internal difficulties during this transition, which has significant ramifications for Egypt and beyond.AnalysisA spokesman at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington told CBS on March 15 that reports that longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has died in a German hospital are untrue. Mubarak has not appeared publicly since undergoing gallbladder surgery at Heidelberg University Hospital over the weekend, though he reportedly will make a statement by phone from the hospital to dismiss the rumors. During his absence, Mubarak temporarily delegated powers to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. Under the Egyptian Constitution, the prime minister is next in line to the presidency.
STRATFOR sources report that the 81-year-old Mubarak has nonterminal cancer of the gallbladder and that he is not expected to seek another term in office. Regardless, Mubarak’s passage will have major implications for the Egyptian state.
Mubarak’s health is a sensitive issue in Egypt, as it remains unclear who will succeed him. As his departure from the scene has been widely anticipated, there has long been speculation on this topic. It is widely believed that he is grooming his son, Gamal, to be Egypt’s next president. It has been known for some time, however, that the country’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman would likely succeed Mubarak as president.
STRATFOR has learned there is reportedly a tacit understanding that Suleiman will serve for one presidential term, during which Gamal Mubarak will be his vice president, and will then succeed Suleiman after the first term. This is likely a way to try and counter the popular view that Gamal is too young and inexperienced to rule just yet. Suleiman’s advanced age reinforces President Mubarak’s confidence that Suleiman will obey his succession wishes and serve one term only.
Regardless of how Egypt’s presidential succession plays out, an Egypt without Hosni Mubarak at the helm will represent the end of an era. He has led Egypt since 1981, when Islamist militants assassinated his predecessor, Anwar El Sadat. The longtime president largely has overshadowed the ruling National Democratic Party, which with the military has controlled the state for decades. Whether the party (and by extension its government) can function effectively without its leader remains to be seen. The question is whether Egypt’s governing elite will follow in the footsteps of Syria’s Allawites, who essentially backed President Bashar al-Assad when his father, Hafez al-Assad passed away in 2000.
Egypt’s political tradition has been quite different than Syria in that it has a historical parliamentary and republican tradition making it difficult for dynasty rule to take hold. In fact, the Mubarak government is a successor to the Nasserist revolution in 1952, which overthrew hereditary rule in 1952. Therefore, the men who have supported Hosni Mubarak for so long are unlikely to easily accept Gamal as president.
The consequences of an intra-NDP struggle are immense given that it could embolden the largest and most organized political opposition group in the country, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement. Though it is moderate in that it seeks power via electoral politics, it has a radical agenda that could have huge regional implications. This threat could help mitigate internal problems within the NDP; either way, the military-intelligence establishment will be paying close attention to the question of the Islamist opposition.
Egypt’s internal politics have reached a historic crossroads, and the potential for things to go badly is significant. The domestic politics of the Arab state, however, are closely linked with the region’s geopolitics, as it is the most important country in the Arab world. Any domestic turmoil could have potential consequences for an array of issues given the numerous regional issues in play: diplomatic relations with Israel, the Palestinian issue, a rising Iran and a re-emergent Turkey.