Egyptians go to the polls on November 28 to elect a new parliament. The hundreds of candidates are being subjected to rigorous preliminary tests before they can register by the Sunday, Nov. 7 deadline.
Up for grabs are 508 seats excepting only 64 reserved for female lawmakers.
But those figures are no more than a formality.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources report that, even before the list of candidates was in, it had been sewn up in detailed deals swung by President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party – the NDP with the opposition, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. They agreed on a setup that not only fixed the distribution of parliamentary seats but also the constituencies in which opposition parties could put up contenders against the ruling party, where they would be permitted to win seats and even the size of the vote.
The election results were carefully mapped out in advance to show that, while Egypt had an active opposition, it was not strong enough to pose a threat to the ruling party.
The most popular opposition faction, the Muslim Brotherhood, was for instance assigned only 30 percent of seats in parliament. Its leaders submitted to demands that they would restrict their campaign to domestic issues and steer clear of foreign and defense policies as taboo – even in the newly-elected house of representatives.
The Brotherhood bowed to these demands as it was the only way to get its candidates placed.
This leaves the National Democratic Party as the only grouping fielding candidates for all 508 seats.
They were picked out of a list of 9,000 party members who faced primaries on October 28.
These primaries were more democratic and free than the parliamentary election will be.
Egyptians consumed with curiosity about Gemal's disappearance
Yet the ordinary Egyptian is less interested in the way the regime rations out democracy than the enigma of the president's disappearing son, Gemal Mubarak, aged 52. They are wondering what caused the heir apparent to suddenly vanish from the social and political scene, his photo to be left off TV screens and newspapers and his name to be cut out of domestic radio programs which have audiences of many millions.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, the answer could be very simply an order from Mubarak in person to banish his son from prominence. But our sources in Washington and Cairo say this is only part of the picture.
In early September, Mubarak brought Gemal to Washington when he attended the formal launching at the White House of the ill-fated direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Mubarak presented his son to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expecting their backing for his candidacy when he ran for president in elections slated for September 2011.
But there was no response and none has been forthcoming from Washington up to the present day.
In view of the Obama administration's silence, Mubarak made three decisions:
1. Gemal will be kept out of sight for the next five months until the end of March or early April 2011. During that time, there will be no mention of his possible candidacy as his father's successor.
2. In the meantime, the ruling NDP will put up a straw candidate to stand as an alternative candidate if Mubarak decides not to run for re-election. Air Marshal Ahmed Mohamed Shafik was chosen to fill this dummy role. Mubarak's right-hand man since they served together as Egyptian Air Force pilots in the 1960s, Shafiq serves today as Minister for Civil Aviation.
3. Next April, six months before the presidential election, Mubarak will decide finally whether to run again for a fifth term or put his son up for the presidency. Under present circumstances, Mohammad Shafiq's candidacy does not look like a realistic option.
The Egyptian figure calculates that the five-month delay will be time enough for the White House to let him know where the US president stands on the Gemal candidacy. He hopes that the promise of US backing will be forthcoming together with a guarantee for the security of the Mubarak II regime and the personal safety of its incoming head.