Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has succumbed to fears of a revolution and announced Saturday the appointment of intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first-ever vice president. He also dismissed his cabinet.
Suleiman has been a prominent figure in diplomatic ties with Israel and often has acted as a broker in talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and between the Fatah and Hamas factions.
Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, also named his air force commander and aviation minister, Ahmed Shafik, as prime minister.
The addition of new faces to his regime is aimed at calming the new protest movement, which has been attacked by riot police using the same tactics that are a root cause of the opposition. Egypt has been listed by Amnesty International as one of the worst violators of human rights.
Video: Protesters set fires in Cairo
Mubarak said in a televised speech Friday that he would also introduce new political and economic reforms.
Until Mubarak’s dramatic political appointments Saturday, his son Gamal has been considered the prime candidate to succeed his father, who is reportedly suffering from cancer. Gamal Mubarak and his mother and daughter fled last Wednesday to London, according to an Arab news sources, as previously reported by Israel National News. Other sources, including Al Jazeera, confirmed the report on Saturday but then backed off.
The new positions of Suleiman and Shafik put two military men in top positions as Mubarak tries to avoid a repeat of the revolution in Tunisia, where the army helped overthrow the old regime.
“I think Mubarak is acting on the orders of the military establishment, who clearly value the country’s stability more than they do their president,” John R. Bradley, author of “Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution,” told Bloomberg news service.
The military “will soon offer Mubarak a face-saving way- out, perhaps by announcing that he’s ill again and that Suleiman is to take over until new presidential elections take place,” he said.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has told Cabinet ministers not to comment on the crisis in Egypt, but Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who left the Cabinet in the Labor party shake-up last week, said he thinks calm will return to Egypt.
The protest movement could directly affect Israel if Hamas supporters in Gaza take to the streets to protest against Mubarak, whose government has been increasingly critical of the terrorist organization’s sponsoring or allowing rocket and mortar attacks on Israel’s western Negev.
Egypt reportedly took most of its forces away from the sensitive Rafiah border, a center of smuggling of drugs and weapons into Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula. Part of the wall between Gaza and Egypt reportedly has been dismantled.