Page last updated at 22:45 GMT, Saturday, 31 October 2009

Mubarak avoids talk of succession

Hosni Mubarak (31 October 2009)
In the 28 years he has lead Egypt, Mr Mubarak has never named a deputy

The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has promised further domestic reforms at the annual conference of his ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo.

In the opening speech, Mr Mubarak laid out plans for improvements to healthcare, education and transport.

President Mubarak, 81, did not address growing speculation that his son, Gamal, is being groomed to succeed him.

He has yet to announce whether he will decide to run for a sixth term in the next presidential election in 2011.

On the eve of the conference, the NDP's secretary-general said that choosing a successor to the president was not on the agenda.

"We have a special conference to choose the party's candidate... which is not held annually, and choosing the party's candidate for the presidency would be its one and only subject," said Safwat al-Sharif.

'Clear vision'

Mr Mubarak made no mention of the presidential election in his speech on Saturday, but promised a "free, fair and competitive" parliamentary vote next year.

The party's young members... have a clear vision for the nation's future, and propose new ideas to deal with the reality
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

"We welcome competition and objective opposition," he told delegates.

Analysts say Mr Mubarak is under pressure from the United States - a close ally and major aid donor - to introduce democratic reforms.

Opposition and civil society groups have long complained that the authorities have used emergency laws and the security forces to curb political freedoms. Religious parties are banned, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Mubarak said the NDP's powerful policy secretariat, headed by his son Gamal, had an ambitious programme of reforms.

"The party's young members... have a clear vision for the nation's future, and propose new ideas to deal with the reality," he added.

Gamal Mubarak
Gamal Mubarak is head of the ruling party's policy committee

The BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says the NDP is sensitive to claims that it is elitist and that its recent economic reforms have failed to help the poor.

But, our correspondent says, the hour-long speech contained no clue to the answer of the biggest question dominating the Egyptian political scene - who will succeed Mr Mubarak in office?

In the 28 years that he has lead Egypt, the president has never appointed a deputy and is yet to say whether he plans to run for another six-year term in 2011, when he will be 83.

Although both men deny it, there is speculation that the president wants to hand power to Gamal, our correspondent adds.

On Sunday, the younger Mubarak will take centre stage when he addresses the conference.

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