On May 7, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 444 reported Egyptian president, 82, had decided not to run in the 2011 presidential election and begun to hand the reins of government over to his 52-year old son and anointed successor, Gemal (Jimmy) Mubarak, 52.
Jimmy was being groomed for the presidency by his job of General Secretary of the ruling NPD Policy Committee and had already taken charge of day-to-day presidential business while his ailing father underwent a succession of treatments for cancer.
Gemal even had rooting for him some 80 New York activists, who founded the National Association for Stability and Development to promote his bid for the presidency.
But after being practically written off as a spent force, President Mubarak has surprised everyone. He has suddenly changed his mind about retiring and decided to seek a sixth term in office at the head of his National Democratic Party.
This would make him the longest-serving Egyptian head of state since Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Albanian-born Khedive of Egypt and Sudan (1769-1849) and founder of modern Egypt.
The Egyptian president has not explained his unexpected change of heart or his turn away from his son as heir apparent. It is confirmed, however, by the emergence of a new crop of would-be successors with whom Mubarak has been secretly negotiating in the last two weeks – either to run in 2015 or to take over in mid-term if he should succumb to illness.
A businessman, an apparatchik or a fighter pilot?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources can exclusively reveal the names of the three chosen candidates, for whom Mubarak has gained approval from the three key arms of the regime – the NPD, controlled by himself, Chief of Staff Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and Gen. Omar Suleiman, Minister of Intelligence:
1. Ahmed Ezz, 51, politician and successful businessman, is Chairman and Managing Director of Al Ezz Industries, which have made Egypt the biggest steel manufacturer in the Middle East and North Africa.
As a politician, he is a veteran parliamentarian, member of the People's Assembly of Egypt and, since 2000, Chairman of its Planning and Budget Committee.
2. Mohamed Badran, 53, who is little known outside Egypt. He has risen up through the ruling NPD party machine and is seen in Cairo as a rising star. He is also one of the few politicians actively working to reform Egypt's often criticized ruling system.
3. Air Marshal Ahmed Shafik, 69. Our military sources report that he is not regarded by the Egyptian military as one of their own but rather the personal favorite of the president – himself a former Air force fighter pilot and Air Force chief, who retains a strong affinity with his old flying fraternity.
This is not to say that Shafik's candidacy will meet opposition from the armed forces heads.
His record is impeccable. A fighter pilot who served with distinction as Air Force chief from 1996 to 2002, he moved straight into the office of Egyptian Minister for Civil Aviation. There, the aviator got down to work on restructuring the national carrier EgyptAir – managing to turn it around, and modernizing the airports – Cairo is today a regional hub.
Mubarak: a rugged opponent of Iran and Islamic extremists
Our Cairo sources stress that Mubarak's sudden change of mind may not be his last.
Today, he appears to have passed his son over and chosen three new candidates for the succession while refusing to step down himself. He appears to have recovered partially from the extreme weakness afflicting him in the nine months after he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. The disease appears to be in remission and may recur.
It is not clear if any of the candidates for the succession is qualified to fill President Mubarak's large shoes as a dominant Middle East figure, consummate diplomat and master wheeler and dealer on the regional and global scenes.
Whoever is chosen will also have to contend with the rising tide of extremist Islam sweeping all Arab countries. Mubarak handled the radical Muslim Brotherhood by alternating suppression with political cut and shuffle. He had the Brethren outlawed, but let them run front candidates for parliament – a delicate exercise requiring a ruthless yet smooth touch.
Above all, the octogenarian president has stuck to his guns as the most steadfast and outspoken opponent in the Arab world of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all it stands for – and of Tehran's allies, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah.
Mubarak's passing would be cause for rejoicing in Revolutionary Iran. But today it would still be premature.