On Wednesday, state security forces raided the offices of a coalition opposed to President Hosni Mubarak’s son’s bid to take over from his father. The Egyptian Campaign Against Presidential Succession had announced its formation exactly one week earlier. It’s unlikely, given Mubarak’s record on dealing with opposition, that the raid will be the last.
The Campaign is a broad coalition of opposition groups including leftists, liberals, Islamists and Nasserists who, despite their ideological differences, have united around a single cause: Opposing the Gamal Mubarak’s ascension to the Egyptian presidency. In fact, that is the campaign’s only goal so far.
The Campaign is headed by Ayman Nour, a (sort of) charismatic character who ran for president in 2005 and was subsequently arrested on trumped up forgery charges. Nour was imprisoned and tortured for four years before being released on health grounds in 2009. Nour is the founder of the liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and he has become a convenient face for the Egyptian opposition, particularly with Western politicians and media, who love Nour’s secular liberalism in a country where the strongest opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gamal Mubarak’s presidency is seen as almost a done deal. Gamal is currently the head of the ruling National Democratic Party’s policy committee, firmly ensconcing him in the cabal that controls Egyptian politics. Many of the members of the current cabinet came from out of the NDP’s policy committee. Gamal hasn’t yet announced that he will run for the presidency, but he doesn’t need to. There are Facebook groups dedicated to promoting him. Last week the Coptic pope announced his support for Gamal’s presidency. Those who want to stay in the government’s favor are quickly lining up behind Mubarak Jr.
It’s unclear when Gamal would take over from his father. It was reported earlier this month that Hosni Mubarak has said he plans to rule until his “last breath.” But the president is eighty-one and rumored to be in poor in health. Also, presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and some are starting to announce their candidacies. The handover could happen sooner than expected.
Many–possibly most–Egyptians don’t want Gamal Mubarak as their next president. The Campaign Against Presidential Succession seems like it should be successful. But it’s unlikely that it will be.
Over his twenty-eight years in office, Hosni Mubarak has become adept at crushing opposition. Imprisonment and harassment are expected. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition movement, has hundreds of its members in jail at any given time. Bloggers who speak out against the regime are regularly arrested and beaten. There’s not much room for dissent in Mubarak’s Egypt.
Moreover, there have been similar big-tent opposition groups in the past. In 2004 and 2005 a group called Kifaya, or Enough, emerged calling for democratic reforms. In fact, the movement directly called for Mubarak to step down, something that no one had done before during his presidency that begin in 1981. But after a batch of high profile protests and ensuing police harassment, the movement has largely fallen silent.
Last year, an online activist movement developed to protest the regime. The group, which called itself the 6 April Youth Movement used Facebook and Twitter to organize a national strike and open debate on the future of the regime. But after a series of arrests and beatings, this movement, too, fizzled out.
It seems entirely possible that the Egyptian Campaign Against Presidential Succession will suffer the same fate of past opposition movements. Maybe it won’t. Maybe the group will succeed in uniting the millions of Egyptians who don’t want to see their country become a hereditary dictatorship. But to do this the campaign will have to endure plenty of harassment from the state security services. Last week’s raids are only the beginning.