CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s prime minister said on Tuesday it was still too early to expect President Hosni Mubarak to decide whether to run again for president in a 2011 election.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said should Mubarak, 81, decide against running, the ruling party could find an alternative. When asked if the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, was up to the job, Nazif said: “I see him as a possibility, why not?”
Mubarak, who in 2006 said he would lead Egypt to his last breath, has given no indication he plans to step down when his term ends in 2011. But the silence on whether Mubarak would seek a sixth 6-year term has sparked speculation over succession.
Mubarak’s politician son Gamal is widely tipped as the most likely candidate to lead Egypt, a U.S. ally, once his father leaves office. Both father and son have denied any such plans.
“I think it is not fair for the president to take that decision (to run for office again) two years in advance. I don’t think any president ... would be able to do that,” Nazif said in a Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
The ruling National Democratic Party is to hold its annual conference at the weekend, but Nazif has said the party was not expected to pick a presidential candidate then.
“I think that he has proven clearly even very recently that he is still in good health, he is capable of running the country. He is mobile, he travels, he sees people. He is doing a great job. There is no reason to believe otherwise,” Nazif said.
“I think that President Mubarak would represent a very good candidate if he decides to run again. He has represented stability for Egypt. He is popular in the country. He has definitely the experience,” he said.
Alongside Gamal Mubarak, analysts have speculated that intelligence chief Omar Suleiman could be a successor.
“If for some reason the president decides not to run, then the party will come up with a different candidate. And I think he will have a strong base because the party still ... is the strongest political base in the country,” he said.
Other opposition parties have just a handful of seats in parliament. The strongest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, holds about a fifth of seats but its supporters can only run as independents as the group is officially banned.
“I realize the anxiety” regarding the succession, Nazif said, adding: “I’m telling investors, don’t worry. There is always a way and there is always an alternative. There has been in Egypt in the past.”
Asked about Gamal Mubarak, he said he was a possibility and added: “I think Gamal is an excellent person. He is knowledgeable. He has been in the political system enough to understand the issues. He shows vision. He is young.”
While analysts say the most likely scenario is that Gamal will take over, they note it is not a certainty partly because he may not have enough influence. Unlike all three presidents since 1952, he does not have a military background.
However, he does have a top policy post in the ruling party and his allies in the cabinet have implemented a raft of economic reforms that have lifted growth rates and been broadly praised by foreign investors.
Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by Myra MacDonald