Mubarak back in saddle after op abroad

CAIRO - President Hosni Mubarak arrived back in Egypt on Saturday, three weeks after undergoing an operation in Germany, ending a period of intense speculation over the state of his health but maybe not about his political future.

CAIRO - President Hosni Mubarak arrived back in Egypt on Saturday, three weeks after undergoing an operation in Germany, ending a period of intense speculation over the state of his health but maybe not about his political future.

Mubarak, who is 81 and has been president since 1981, has "fully recovered", according to a medical report issued by the team that removed his gall bladder and a benign growth.

He did not, however, walk down the stairs of the plane. He descended, alongside the first lady, on an escalator. Mubarak then flew to the Egyptian seaside city of Sharm el Sheik, where he is expected to remain for his recuperation.

Though Mubarak is expected to resume full authority of the presidency, it is not clear how quickly he will manage those responsibilities. The prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, had been filling in.

In Egypt, power is concentrated in the hands of the president. Because Mubarak has held the position for almost three decades, it is widely accepted that he will continue to lead the country until he willingly steps down or dies. That is why his recent health crisis amplified the national debate over the question of succession.

Mubarak's fifth term as president ends next year, and he has not announced whether he plans to run for another six-year term. He has not appointed a vice president, and there is no clear successor in sight, though it is widely believed that he has been grooming his younger son, Gamal, to be the candidate of the ruling National Democratic Party.

In the meantime, there is rising opposition to another term for Mubarak or a term for his son. There are demands across the political spectrum for constitutional amendments to allow for a more democratic process.

At the centre of these demands is Mohamed el Baradei, the former chief of the international nuclear monitoring agency and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He returned to Egypt last month and embraced a nascent movement led by academics and young activists asking him to run for president.

But according to the constitution, it is virtually impossible for el Baradei or anyone else who is not a member of any party to run as an independent candidate. - New York Times

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