When Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, the two sons of Egypt's former president, deposed in 2011, were released from prison on 26 January, most local and foreign media attention was focused on Gamal. Agreement is widespread that that the release of Gamal was particularly significant. While Alaa, the older son of Mubarak, never showed any interest in politics under his father's 30-year rule, Gamal actively participated in political life, abusing his father's tremendous powers to manipulate the country's politics and put it on the road of a father-son succession scenario.
After graduating from the American University in Cairo (AUC) in 1985 and a 13-year stint in London as investment banker, Gamal returned to Egypt in 1998, first becoming a spokesman for his father's party — the now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) — and later the champion of its self-described "reformist vanguard."
During the years between 2005 and 2010, Gamal became the most influential man in Egypt outside his father, pushing the latter and state institutions to engineer a number of constitutional changes aimed to help him inherit power at the end of 2011.
According to Gamal Zahran, a political science professor at Suez Canal University and a former independent MP, "When Egyptians revolted in January 2011, they were in fact revolting against Gamal Mubarak rather than against his father."
"Most Egyptians believe that Mubarak was a good man who could have left power voluntarily in 2005 to pave the way to democratic rule. But he was corrupted by the political ambitions of his son Gamal and his Anglo-Egyptian wife Suzanne," argued Zahran, adding that "as a result and after Egyptians turned out in millions against Mubarak in January 2011, the first move he took in a bid to contain their anger was to force his son Gamal to resign from the NDP and even leave politics, but it was too late."
Zahran also recalls that "Omar Suleiman, Egypt's former forceful chief of intelligence who was appointed vice president on 29 January 2011, tried his best to assure the angry protesters at Tahrir Square that Gamal Mubarak would never be back to politics and that Mubarak had never planned for a father-son succession scenario."
Zahran believes that the release of Gamal Mubarak on 26 January, after he was detained almost four years ago, could be a very negative development for Egypt's political life.
"Gamal is a very ambitious man, not to mention that he still enjoys support among Egypt's liberal business class and the circles of his father's NDP diehards," said Zahran, arguing that "They and Gamal could meet again to ask him to return to politics and seek power again."
Agreeing with Zahran, Mohamed Abdel-Alim, a former independent MP, notes that Gamal Mubarak was released while Egypt is bracing itself for long-delayed parliamentary elections.
"This is significant, also given the fact that Ahmed Ezz, the steel tycoon who acted as Gamal Mubarak's right-hand man, has also been released from prison, pending trial," said Abdel-Alim. "So," he continued, "why would not Gamal and Ezz meet again to prepare for the parliamentary polls." "This does not mean they might contemplate running in the polls, but it does mean that they could plan to help a large number of former NDP MPs to run, hoping they will be able to become a critical mass in Egypt's next parliament."
Gamal, 52, and Ezz, 56, joined Mubarak's NDP's secretariat-general in 2000. They had become close friends before that year. They appeared together for the first time in a Middle East economic summit in Cairo in 1996.
Gamal and Ezz quickly bolstered their positions in the NDP. Alongside other businessmen with a neo-liberal agenda, they were labeled "the new guard" vis-à-vis the old guard that was led by Safwat Al-Sherif, Mubarak's longest-serving minster of information.
In 2002, Gamal and Ezz organised the NDP's general congress under the title "A New Style of Thinking," with Gamal becoming chairman of NDP's influential Policies Committee in 2004. Two years later, after Mubarak was re-elected president in 2005, Ezz was promoted to become chairman of NDP's influential Secretariat for Organisational Affairs. Ezz replaced Kamal Al-Shazli, an old guard politician who acted as the party's disciplinary whip. The new position was a significant reward for Ezz who largely funded Mubarak's presidential election campaign in 2005.
Gathering power in their hands in 2006, Gamal and Ezz forced Mubarak to amend the constitution to limit eligible candidates in presidential elections to leaders and senior officials of licensed political parties holding at least five per cent of seats in the lower and upper houses of parliament — the People's Assembly and Shura Council — and independents who could meet the impossible task of garnering the support of at least 250 elected representatives in parliament and local councils.
The amendments, according to Zahran and Abdel-Alim, not only paved the way for Gamal and his business associates to inherit power from Mubarak, but also marginalised the army.
In his book entitled The Army and Revolution, journalist Mostafa Bakri cited military sources as telling him that "The army was highly angered by Mubarak's 2007 constitutional amendments which made the succession scenario a reality on the ground." "We felt we were marginalised and that Mubarak was really grooming his son to become the new president of Egypt," Bakri cited a military official as saying, adding that "This is why when the people asked for his departure in January 2011 Mubarak knew for sure that the army would not support him."
Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party and nephew of late president Anwar El-Sadat, agrees that the release has fueled speculation that Gamal Mubarak might consider re-entering politics.
Following Gamal's acquittal on corruption charges last November, local media cited sources claiming he was eyeing a presidential bid in 2018. Sadat believes that "It would be foolish for Gamal Mubarak to join politics, and I think that his father and mother Suzanne will make sure that he keeps away to save themselves from any further disaster."
Suzanne claimed in an interview with a Kuwaiti journalist last week that Gamal had never been groomed to inherit power from his father.
Sadat believes that "If Gamal was finally acquitted of all charges against him, and this is still a distant possibility, he would rather have two choices: either leave the country for London again, where some of his mother's relatives still live, or stay in Egypt but without pursuing any political activities."
Sameh Ashour, chairman of the Lawyers' Syndicate, said in a television interview this week that "No political comeback is possible for Gamal Mubarak, who still has to be cleared of a host of outstanding corruption charges. Not to mention that Gamal, and the entire Mubarak family, lacks any kind of support on the street." Ashour added: "Most of the officials who surrounded him when he was a leading figure in his father's NDP have either vanished or are facing trials."
Ashour, however, believes that "Gamal might assume that his father's reputation has been badly tarnished and that he should be out again to defend Mubarak's legacy. But I think this would be a big mistake and it is better for Gamal to keep silent because he would be the last one to defend his father," argued Ashour.
The two Mubaraks, Gamal and Alaa, were arrested on 13 April 2011, two months after their father was forced from office. On 21 May 2014, Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Gamal and Alaa to four years for embezzling LE125 million of funds earmarked to the renovation of presidential palaces. The Court of Cassation overturned the 2014 verdict on 13 January and ordered a retrial. Though they still face a number of outstanding charges, their release was ordered because Article 143 of the Criminal Procedures Law states that defendants cannot remain in custody pending trial for more than 18 months.