Referring to Gamal Mubarak earlier this year, a senior editor at the distinguished London Review of Books wrote that "he may be the only person who is more widely disliked in Egypt than his father." After ten years in the spotlight, the banker-turned-hotshot-politician could not bond with the majority of Egyptians. His competence as an astute politician, let alone his eligibility for the presidency of the Egyptian state, is still highly questionable.
At odds with this reality, a campaign called "The Popular Campaign to Support Gamal Mubarak" was recently launched to nominate Gamal Mubarak to the presidency in next year’s elections. According to the coordinator of the group, 100,000 signatures have been collected so far, and more signatures are expected to flow as the campaign intensifies its efforts in many governorates. In tandem, the powerful pro-Gamal clique in the NDP and business circles has become less guarded in its espousal of Gamal’s "political future" — more precisely, the presidency.
There are two types of Gamal Mubarak’s followers. First, the opportunists who support him for their own personal benefits: the apparatchiks in the NDP hunting for a rise in hierarchy and prestige; the businessmen who believe that Gamal’s ascendance to power will serve their business interests; and the self-seekers who climb the bandwagon of any would-be man at the helm.
Second, there are those who sincerely think that Mubarak Jr. is the best choice for Egypt’s future.
Though the second group is apparently made up of a small minority, their existence still raises a number of vital questions: Why do Gamal’s supporters think that his election as president would serve the national interest of Egypt? What kind of arguments do they lean on to accept a rather unscrupulous father-to-son succession of power? Why do they feel affinity with, and pay allegiance to, a man who is so unpopular, so ostracized by the majority?
Do these faithful supporters believe that appearance is more important than substance? This is not a sarcastic question. Many admirers of Gamal Mubarak praise his good looks, his nicely-cut business suits, his mastering of English, and his open-minded mentality. Except for a few exceptions, most Egyptian politicians for the past few decades have been old, unappealing, speaking an outdated language, and they came from humble social backgrounds. Gamal represents a different generation, one that is better educated, more exposed to the outside world, one that speaks the language of modern times.
That these personal qualities are irrelevant to the real performance of a politician, it seems, is not so clear to them, unless these ardent believers in Gamal succumb to the conception that Gandhi liberated his nation with the help of a Gucci suit and a pair of fancy sunglasses. Or, perhaps, they overlook the fact that none fancied the presidential seat among the millions of Egyptians with the same traits; after all, none of them is the son of the president.
The support for Gamal Mubarak is usually clothed in the robes of the argument that Gamal will be a "civilian" president, unlike all Egyptian rulers since 1952. If we take this argument seriously — a no easy task for sane people — we will be tempted to believe that the entire population of Egypt is made up of men and women in uniform, and that Gamal represents Egypt’s "only hope" to demilitarize the country.
Gamal, we are also told with a self-congratulatory tone, is a "young" candidate who will modernize Egypt and drive it smoothly into the thriving hub of the 21st century’s world. It is as though Egypt is barren of youth and vigor. Moreover, Gamal will turn 47 next year; not so young in abstract terms, but certainly very young when compared to his 82-year-old father. So if being young is the sole yardstick used to measure leaders, then Mubarak Sr. should have long been deposed.
These glib arguments are emblematic of the infected discourse of Gamal’s support base.
In addition, the fans of Gamal Mubarak do not exhibit any glimmer of awareness of the very basic facts of Egyptian politics. One need not be a genius to know that Egypt has for many decades been ruled by an authoritarian regime that has no appetite for democracy or rotation of office, and that all elections were systematically rigged to perpetuate the dominance of the ruling party. In accord with these longstanding practices, presidential elections will, quite certainly, be rigged to smooth Gamal’s path to the presidency. And if Gamal becomes president, the politics of the status quo, which Gamal helped design and execute for the past ten years, will be maintained and deepened. If an Egyptian doesn’t know this, he is ignorant; if he does know this but condones it, he is corrupt.
Some important questions crop up from the talk of political corruption. What about the dominance of nepotism that enabled Gamal to rise in the ruling party, until he became its Deputy Secretary General within a few years? Could this speedy rise in power take place had he not been the president’s son? To these questions, they remain silent; but silence, too is an answer.
Obviously, one word seems to be missing from these fans’ lexicon: legitimacy. Legitimacy will surely mean so little if Gamal becomes president through the NDP’s democratic sham.
Nor do these fans pay attention to Egypt’s stature in the region and the world, which will be shattered by the father-son succession of power. While Egyptians mourn as they see the age of Egypt-the-manor house take over and quash the age of Egypt-the-culture/civilization/enlightenment/model/progress, etc, Gamal’s supporters think it is time to jubilate.
However, to give them the due benefit of the doubt, the possibility that they care more about economic and social performance than democratic practice and constitutional legitimacy should be taken into account. These followers are possibly disciples of the school of the "fair dictator," which is prevalent in Egypt and the Arab world. If this is the case, then maybe these enthusiasts think that only Gamal will guarantee the continuation of his father’s "golden" era in Egypt. Under Hosni Mubarak, they probably assume, Egypt witnessed an "an unprecedented process of development" that should be preserved and built upon.
But, is there still any doubt about the abysmal heritage of Hosni Mubarak? After thirty years of failure, the deterioration in public services, be it education, health, electricity, water, or transportation, needs no compelling proof; just a bit of common sense and general wisdom. Images that reflect widespread poverty, negligence, inefficiency, skewed planning and mismanagement of resources besiege Egyptians at every turn in their daily lives. And there has been no breakthrough in economy, foreign policy or democratization. So, again, one must be so effectively brainwashed by the regime’s defunct propaganda to hold such out-of-touch-with-reality beliefs.
Naively, Gamal’s supporters use the example of Bush Senior and Junior — father and son becoming presidents — to justify and suggest a similar scenario in Egypt. Eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency are thus swiftly erased from the historical record, along with the legal and political sea of differences separating America’s and Egypt’s systems.
The unsophisticated arguments of the Gamal faction have this tragi-farce effect that leaves one bewildered, not knowing whether to laugh or to cry. Reading and listening to these arguments could be enormously useful, but only if one has an appetite for comedy — black comedy.
A poll conducted at the website of Al-Jazeera channel last month asked the following question: Do you join the Egyptian opposition’s rejection of the nomination of Gamal Mubarak to the presidency? 91% voted yes, showing that, contrary to prevalent stereotypes, the people of Egypt and the Arab world can, thank God, still spot the difference between good and bad apples.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He can be reached at: nael_shama (at) yahoo (dot) com.