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Mubarak shows new face but old habits die hard; Corruption scandal hits Mubarak crony
Paul Schemm
August 30, 2005

ASYUT, Egypt - NEW FACE? New Western techniques are vying with old Egyptian habits in President Hosni Mubarak`s campaign for reelection in next week`s polls.

A glossy campaign has revamped the president`s image but many of the features that have marked his 24-year autocratic reign remain.

There were dozens of young university students neatly lined up outside the tent in the impoverished southern city of Asyut where the rais was about to give his latest campaign speech on Monday.

Dressed in matching white Mubarak T-shirts, navy pants and identical white tennis shoes, all provided by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), they stood beneath a banner emblazoned with the slogan: `New thought`.

The recrafting of the president`s image by his party`s reformist wing into someone with the common touch encompasses not only his new casual style of dress.

Mubarak, who will for the first time face competition in the September 7 poll, has focused his speeches on key economic issues and the daily hardships of ordinary Egyptians.

`I know that lack of housing represents an obstacle for many of our youth who want to marry and begin a new life,` he told a crowd of several thousand people in Asyut. `I feel for their problems.`

But in his speeches the new-style Mubarak is interrupted by party faithful chanting slogans of fealty and support that have been around for decades.

`With our blood and soul we sacrifice ourselves for you,` his Asyut fans sang. Mubarak even asked the crowd to stop using that chant during a campaign stop in the town of Minya last week.

The new face of the president is seen as a product of the young Western-educated policymakers brought into the party by Mubarak`s son Gamal, said Abdullah Schleifer, the Cairo-based publisher of the Transnational Broadcasting Studies journal.

`He`s campaigning to the Egyptian constituency` with this new human approach, he said. `And at the same time he has another constituency which is the court of Western and American public opinion.`

The NDP presidential campaign has hired a professional advertising firm to produce its campaign commercials and billboards and created a polling department to fine-tune its political message with the voters.

Campaign media coordinator Mohammed Kamal explained that the initial focus on the traditional campaign promises and pledges had to be changed.

`We tested that with the focus groups, but many people had problems with that, like it`s not sexy, so to speak,` he said. The result was more concrete measures in the speeches.

The media department of the campaign has also been friendly to journalists.

But one member of the campaign who still refuses questions is the candidate himself. Mubarak has given no press conferences and his party has flatly turned down requests for televised debates with rivals.

Old authoritarian habits also die hard in the press. State-run television has taken pains to give equal airtime to all candidates, but the government newspapers have been heavily slanted toward the president.

While media bias has been tracked down by independent monitoring NGOs, even some NDP members have privately expressed their dissatisfaction with the campaign coverage of the state press.

According to Mahmoud Mohieddin, the investment minister and a leading reformist figure in the NDP, it will take time for the party rank and file to get used to the new approach.

He recalls being berated by one village leader who told him that the president should not even have to campaign.

`The president is perceived as being above all that,` explained Mohieddin, adding that the attitude would change with time. `You need to get some people acquainted with all of these reform measures and be patient with them.`


Corruption scandal hits Mubarak crony

By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

CAIRO: A corruption scandal has hit Egypt`s best-known media tycoon, also a long-time confidant of President Hosni Mubarak, a few days before the president runs for re-election in a landmark poll. The Al-Osboa weekly newspaper said that Ibrahim Nafie, the former chairman of the Al-Ahram press group, was on a three-million-pound ($500,000) salary and received millions more in hidden benefits.

The newspaper alleged that Nafie - who remained at the helm of Egypt`s top-selling daily for 26 years - also cut himself a daily commission of 83,000 pounds ($14,400) on the group`s distribution and advertising receipts.

Nafie also siphoned 400 million pounds ($70 million) from the group`s assets into his own accounts, the newspaper said, alleging that banking and state institutions turned a blind eye.

Al-Osboa published facsimiles documenting the corruption allegations and detailing some of the payments made to Nafie and his close associates.

The paper also charged that Nafie threw extravagant birthday parties in his home every year and expensed them to the paper`s account, totaling some 250,000 pounds ($43,000).

Al-Ahram sells 600,000 copies a day and the group employs about 10,000 people. It is the largest of Egypt`s top three state-owned newspapers and the biggest press group in the Arab world.

Nafie, who had been in charge of the group since 1979 and was also the paper`s chief editor for more than two decades, was considered close to Mubarak and was often dubbed the president`s `right ear minister.`

He lost his position as Al-Ahram chairman in July as part of complete revamping of the state press which was believed to have been initiated by Mubarak`s son Gamal.

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