Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak named a vice president Saturday for the first time since coming to power nearly 30 years ago. It was a clear step toward setting up a successor in the midst of the biggest challenge ever to his rule from tens of thousands of anti-government protesters.
Mubarak named his intelligence chief of nearly two decades and close confidant Omar Suleiman, state television reported.
The president had been seen as grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, possibly even as soon as in presidential elections planned for later this year. However, there was significant public opposition to the hereditary succession.
The appointment of Suleiman, 74, answers one of the most intriguing and enduring political questions in Egypt: Who will succeed 82-year-old Mubarak?
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Another question is whether his appointment will calm the chaotic streets of Egypt’s cities. In the capital Cairo, looting was rampant on Saturday and lawlessness was spreading fast. Residents of affluent neighborhoods in the capital were even boarding up their houses against gangs of thugs roaming the streets with knives and sticks.
The tens of thousands who have been out for five days confronting police are unified in one overarching demand — Mubarak and his family must go. The movement is a culmination of years of simmering frustration over a government they see as corrupt, heavy-handed and neglectful of grinding poverty.
Mubarak sacked his Cabinet Saturday and promised reforms to try to quell the protests, but it did not satisfy the demonstrators who were out in force again to demand a complete change of regime.
Like Mubarak, Suleiman has a military background. The powerful military has provided Egypt with its four presidents since the monarchy was toppled nearly 60 years ago. He has been in charge of some of Egypt’s most sensitive foreign policy issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Suleiman, additionally, is widely seen as a central regime figure, a position that protesters were likely to view negatively.Mubarak also named his new prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, the outgoing civil aviation minister and fellow former air force officer.
Both appointments perpetuate the military’s overriding role in Egyptian politics.