Egypt has often been described as the lynch pin of the Middle East. It has always played a central role in the region. However growing dissent and the lingering question of succession have cast a shadow of uncertainty over Egypt's political future.
The Question of Succession
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year. Mubarak assumed power after Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. He has ruled Egypt for the past 27 years, winning re-election four times (although most election years there was only one name on the ballot). On paper Egypt has a multi-party system, but in practice government restrictions on political parties and religious groups have successfully suppressed any significant opposition. Egypt's political system more closely resembles a socialist dictatorship than a democracy. Since the birth of the Egyptian republic the nation has been ruled by a single political party.
There has been much speculation concerning who will eventually replace Egypt's aging leader. Mubarak's current term in office does not end until 2011, but rumors are circulating concerning his health. Mubarak has not officially anointed a successor, nor has he ever appointed a vice president. If Mubarak dies without a vice president, the speaker of the parliament takes over for 60 days while the ruling party chooses a successor whose nomination is ratified in a public referendum. In reality, however, it will be senior military officers that will decide who takes power. No president has ever taken office in Egypt without the endorsement of the military.
The most likely candidate is Mubarak's son Gamal, who is the head of Egypt's ruling political party. Unlike his father, however, Gamal has never served in the military. Also, many Egyptians are opposed to a hereditary succession, making Gamal a controversial figure. Furthermore, there is a power struggle taking place within the ruling party. The old guard is clashing with the younger generation, making the question of succession even more uncertain.
As President Mubarak's time in office draws closer to an end, there is growing discontent among the Egyptian masses. According to US development figures more than 40 percent of Egyptians live in poverty and about 80 percent are considered low-income. The Muslim Brotherhood (despite being officially banned by the government) is extremely popular among the lower classes. The Islamic organization is seen as a growing threat to the ruling party.
Meanwhile political tensions are on the rise between Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian navy recently conducted large-scale military exercises - its largest ever - simulating a war against Israel. Adding insult to injury, the games were held on the 41st anniversary of the sinking of an Israeli naval vessel by Egyptian rockets, a deadly ambush in which 47 Israelis were killed and about 100 others were wounded.
Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement in 1979, however the relationship between the two nations has always been strained. Egypt receives an average of more than 2 billion dollars annually in economic and military assistance from the United States - the second largest foreign aid package after Israel. According to the official Congressional Research Service, "US policy toward Egypt is aimed at maintaining regional stability, improving bilateral relations, continuing military cooperation, and sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty." Egypt is viewed by the US as a "moderating influence" and a "stabilizing force" in the Middle East.
Ever since the Yom Kippur War, Egypt has been expanding and upgrading its military. With the help of US funds and cooperation, Egypt has been able to purchase Apache helicopter gunships, F-16s, mobile anti-aircraft systems and advanced munitions, even submarines. Today, Egypt has the largest and most advanced military in the Arab world.
• Daniel's Seventy Weeks - 66/40 Radio Broadcast - Listen Free!
• The Rise of Islam - Strategic Trends
• Egypt Ruling Party Mum on Ageing President's Successor - AFP
• Egyptian War Games Cause For Concern in Israel - CNS News