In a fairly conventional speech before the combined houses of Parliament earlier this afternoon, President Hosni Mubarak dropped several hints indicating that he is considering a sixth term in office.
"The lives of many Egyptians are taking a curve towards the better due to an ambitious and prioritized reform program that has been based, in the past few years, on a strategic vision that I have been committed to and I will remain committed to in the future," the president said.
Mubarak also spoke of detailed economic plans "for the next five years," suggesting it would allow for industrial expansion, the creation of new job opportunities and the bolstering of the national economy, so as to secure a 6 per cent annual growth rate.
"We have to remain committed to reform in the coming phase," said the president, adding that it would require legislation to further promote the operation of the free market, within the safety net constituted by the supervision of the government, the expansion of micro-enterprises and the efficient management of state assets, especially state owned lands.
Addressing a parliament in which his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has come to possess an overwhelming majority, the president said that it is the responsibility of the majority, the opposition and the independents – mostly members of the NDP – to work for social justice, to combat poverty and to expand the subsidized health care program.
The 83-year-old president, whose health condition has been the topic of anxious speculation earlier this year, seemed to be in good shape and good morale.
The president responded comfortably and wittily to remarks made by MPs and made a few jokes. The 'parallel parliament' that some of the opposition forces are planning to launch was subject to one of these jokes.
During his speech, Mubarak said twice that people "should not give too much attention to rumors and speculations" – once when categorically denying any plans to privatize public hospitals, and another when he affirmed commitment to build Egypt's civilian nuclear power plants in Al-Dabaa, north west of Egypt – a venue speculated for a mega tourism project.
Mubarak also welcomed the participation of 64 women MPs, who were elected as part of the new women's quota system, and he stressed his commitment to preserving national unity. He also reiterated commitment to foreign policy priorities, with a particular reference to the promotion of closer relations with the Nile Basin countries.