Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ayman Nour : Succession vs. the ‘black room’

Ayman Nour

On Wednesday, October 14, a group of sincere activists and opposition leaders shall launch the “Egyptian Campaign against Presidential Succession.” One of the main demands to be announced at the founding conference is establishing a “white room” in an attempt to confront the “black room,” which works, since 2005, on pushing forward the presidential succession process from Mubarak senior to Mubarak junior. The white room shall coordinate between specialized legal and political independent committees to prevent turning this nightmare into reality.

The “black room” is the symbolic name of the very limited group working on ensuring Gamal Mubarak’s succession to his father as the next president of Egypt. It is composed of only five – highly trusted – members. None of them is a civil or military ministerial official. They are Gamal Mubarak himself, two of his close friends, a reputable media figure and a businessman, who is also a member of Parliament. It is a closed group; new members are not accepted.

The black room started in 2005, upon a suggestion by the “reputable media figure” to gather once per month for meditation, thinking and brainstorming. In those meetings, they used to discuss weaknesses and strengths of passing the presidency to Gamal and plan how to kill facts and rumors, which might negatively affect Gamal’s opportunities.

Immediately before the beginning of 2007, the tasks of the group had changed completely in terms of their nature, scope and target. Subsequently, the black room had to meet once per week and sometimes on a daily basis, even if Gamal himself was not available. The most serious change here is the change of the nature of the assigned tasks of the group. One of those tasks, for instance, was identifying the articles of the Constitution to be amended and properly tailored to fit into their plans. By the end of 2006, President Mubarak submitted a request to Parliament to approve the suggested amendments on 34 articles of the constitution.

The black room was primarily concerned with amending article 76 in a way that limits the selection of the candidate from the National Democratic Party to the members of the General Secretariat who have served for at least one year. The main purpose of this amendment was avoiding expected pressures by newly added members in case of the absence of the president.

Another constitutional article perfectly amended by the black room was article 84, which regulates the rules of the transitional period after the unexpected vacancy of the presidency. The amended article 84 prohibits the temporary president from passing amendments to the constitution during the transitional period. Certainly, this is meant to enhance the restrictions imposed by the amended article 76. The amendments of those two particular articles are meant to ensure making Gamal Mubarak the one and only candidate of the National Democratic Party and limit the opportunities of his rivals from outside NDP.

On another level, the black room is working on drying the resources threatening Gamal Mubarak’s opportunities to succeed his father as the president of Egypt. They simply weaken the names of expected rivals, whether they are members of the current regime, opposition leaders, or public figures. Their tool in this regard is a “black” newspaper supported by the black room and working according to its “black” agenda. In addition, they sometimes burden those rivals by complicated duties that might lead to distorting their image in the public and losing their popularity. Fortunately, the black room failed in achieving those ill-conceived goals; their black plans lead to the opposite results.

Nevertheless, the biggest failure of the black room is the fact that Gamal Mubarak is already losing his popularity day after day. He was absolutely rejected by different social segments and state circles, which clarified this in obvious messages during the past few months. That pushed the black room – recently – to change their priority to a naïve campaign to polish Gamal Mubarak’s image, before the coming NDP conference in November.

After losing a great deal of what they gained over the past few years, the black room realized that the only way for succession is pressuring President Mubarak to step down and leave the presidential seat for his son. They are not ready to take the risk of waiting till the death of the President and then trying other options, which everyone is quite confident are not going to work.

The latest and probably strangest decision of the black room is instructing the close friends of Gamal Mubarak not to deal with him in an informal way. They are, simply, cutting the few last worn-out strings between Gamal and the people.


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