Egypt’s former air force chief and minister for civil aviation, Ahmed Shafiq, has been designated the new prime minister by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and tasked to form the next Cabinet, Al Jazeera reported Jan. 29. The announcement comes shortly after Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was appointed vice president, a position that has been vacant for the past 30 years.
Mubarak is essentially accelerating a succession plan that has been in the works for some time. STRATFOR noted in December 2010 that a conflict was building between the president on one side and the old guard in the army and the ruling party on the other over Mubarak’s attempt to create a path for his son Gamal to eventually succeed him. The interim plan Mubarak had proposed was for Suleiman to become vice president, succeed Mubarak and then pass the reins to Gamal after some time. The stalwart members of the old guard, however, refused this plan. Though they approved of Suleiman, they knew his tenure would be short-lived given his advanced age. Instead, they demanded that Shafiq, who comes from the air force — the most privileged branch of the military from which Mubarak himself also came — be designated the successor. Shafiq is close to Mubarak and worked under his command in the air force. Shafiq also has the benefit of having held a civilian role as minister of civil aviation since 2002, making him more palatable to the public.
Mubarak may be nominally dissolving the Cabinet, ordering an army curfew and now asking Shafiq to form the next government, but the embattled president is not the one in charge. Instead, the military appears to be managing Mubarak’s exit, taking care not to engage in a confrontation with the demonstrators while the political details are being sorted out.