ARAB MEDIA are reporting that Egypt’s president for the past 28 years, Hosni Mubarak, is planning to step down following an early dissolution of parliament. He is also seeking, reports suggest, to bring forward to 2009 or 2010 the presidential election due in 2011.
The Saudi press has prompted the spate of reports by revealing that during a recent visit to Riyadh, Saudi King Abdullah was told by Mr Mubarak of his intention to retire before the end of his fifth six-year term. He is believed to have taken this decision because of faltering health and depression caused by the death of his beloved 12-year-old grandson.
The Egyptian opposition paper al-Usboa says Mr Mubarak (81) intends to transfer power to his son Gamal (45), who has been groomed to succeed.
However, the transition may not be so straightforward. Gamal Mubarak, a wealthy businessman and senior member of the ruling party, is not popular.
He could be challenged by intelligence chief Omar Suleiman who is not only popular, but could also have the backing of factions in the powerful military.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group with 88 out of 444 elected seats in parliament, claims Gamal Mubarak is likely to assume power. The Egyptian media argues that a recent crackdown on the brotherhood is meant to neutralise the organisation ahead of the transition. More than 130 members, including three leaders, of the banned but tolerated brotherhood were arrested.
Whether he secures the presidency or not, Mr Suleiman is likely to continue playing a major role on the regional scene.
He has been trying to broker a reconciliation deal between the warring Palestinian Fatah and Hamas organisations, solidify the Gaza ceasefire, and forge an agreement with Hamas and Israel on the exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza for more than three years.
In spite of the unprecedented speculation in the Egyptian media, Mr Mubarak continues to demonstrate he is still in charge.
Yesterday he called on the G-8 to freeze loan repayments to African countries and blamed Israel for the delay of a prisoner exchange. He said Israel had, at the last moment, imposed new conditions on a nearly concluded deal which links the release of Corporal Shalit to the opening of Gaza’s borders.
Mr Mubarak rose to the presidency in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat by army officers opposed to his peace treaty with Israel. At the time Mr Mubarak, a former air force chief, held the post of vice-president.
Mr Sadat took over in 1970 on the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Mr Mubarak has refused to appoint a vice-president or to anoint a successor.