Prominent American-Egyptian dissident breaks with opposition on hereditary succession

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian-American dissident who was one of the first to criticize the possibility of hereditary succession in Egypt has broken with the opposition by signing a petition calling on the president's son to run for election.

The apparent reversal by Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim surprised Egypt's disparate opposition, which has largely coalesced around the issue of stopping President Hosni Mubarak's 46-year-old son Gamal from succeeding his father.

Mubarak, 82, has not designated a successor or said whether he will run for a sixth term in next year's election. But for the past decade, it has been widely believed he is grooming is son to take over. The president underwent surgery in Germany in March to remove his gall bladder and a benign growth in the lining of his small intestine, setting off speculation about how long he will stay in office.

Ibrahim was one of the first people to publicly criticize hereditary succession in 2000, raising the ire of the regime. He was charged with embezzlement and tarnishing the country's image, subjected to a three-year court battle and was imprisoned twice, prompting stern U.S. criticism.

Shortly before boarding a flight to the United States Monday, Ibrahim claimed that signing the petition was not a reversal of his long-held position.

"I signed to support his right as a citizen to run, but I don't endorse him," he told The Associated Press.

The petition "authorizes" Gamal Mubarak to nominate himself for the presidency and represent all Egyptians.

Magdy el-Kurdi, the coordinator of the new pro-Gamal campaign, described Ibrahim's endorsement as "a positive change in his position toward Gamal."

"Dr. Saad used to say that nomination means hereditary succession. Now he says if Gamal secures popular support, this won't be hereditary," said el-Kurdi, a former member of the opposition himself.

El-Kurdi said so far, 100,000 signatures supporting Gamal's candidacy have been collected.

The campaign is widely believed to be a trial balloon by certain factions of the ruling National Democratic Party testing Gamal's popularity ahead of a possible presidential run.

Hassan Nafaa, coordinator for opposition movement which is backing the nomination of Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of atomic watchdog, condemned Ibrahim's move.

"He's either lost his mind or there is a deal with the ruling regime," he told AP. "This is a miserable fall for Saad and no one is going to believe him anymore."

Ibrahim has also signed ElBaradei's petition calling for constitutional changes to open up the political process so that more people can participate, but Nafaa said there was a major difference between the two measures.

"The opposition are deprived of the right to run while Gamal's door is open in front of him and running for elections is just up to him and to his father," he said.