President Hosni Mubarak may not have officially announced he's seeking re-election, but he's acting like a campaigner: presenting himself as a champion of reform while guaranteeing stability and continuity.
The 77-year-old Mubarak sought to drive home that message to one of the pillars of his power, the military, in a speech at the Military Academy that was splashed across the front pages of government newspapers Thursday.
Few hold any doubts Mubarak, in power since 1981, will win a fifth term in September. Though the election was opened to competitors for the first time, no viable opponent has come forward.
The graduation ceremony speech Wednesday night illustrated Mubarak's overwhelming advantage: He not only dominates the media but also is head of the armed forces. Mubarak delivered his address as part of a weeklong celebration of the 53rd anniversary of the military coup that ended the monarchy in Egypt.
Stating his goals
Mubarak clearly laid out his intentions for a new six-year term.
"My pledge to you has been and will always remain that I will not spare an effort to seek what is good for Egypt and its children," the former air force commander said. "I will continue to be responsible before God, the nation and you for the oath I took when I took the responsibility of becoming the republic's president.
"(It is) a pledge and an oath that I will not forgo Egypt's national security and sovereignty and independence," he said.
Government papers had banner headlines on the address.
"Mubarak's pledge and oath," said Al-Ahram, the largest daily.
"My pledge before God and the nation," was the headline of the other pro-government paper, al-Akhbar.
The Coptic Church, businessmen and even government departments have lined up behind Mubarak, calling on him to nominate himself because of his "experience" and "wisdom." Large advertisements in newspapers by business groups as well as Arab investors also praise Mubarak's achievements.
Opponents questioning Mubarak's integrity
Opposition parties have expressed worries about his unlimited access to the media, and questioned whether he will play by the same rules as other hopefuls, including the financial guidelines for campaigning, which set a ceiling of 10 million Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of $1.7 million.
A committee supervising the elections has yet to announce a date when candidates can officially announce they are running.
Mubarak's choice to unofficially launch his campaign at the military academy was astute, said Robert Springborg, head of the London Middle East Institute of the School of African and Asian Studies in London University.
While Mubarak is presenting his new credentials as a reformer who introduced a significant change — the open election — he also is reassuring the military that his drive for democracy cannot happen without their approval.
"In the past years, we have completed the preparations for a new drive to realize these ambitions and hope: a future for a strong Egypt. Not with its armed forces and stability only, but with its freedom, democracy, regional role and international standing," Mubarak said.
Springborg said Mubarak and his associates have done "a good job at repackaging" the man — as a "product of the revolution, yet a man of the 21st Century."
"His message is that we are not making any profound changes," Springborg said. "The real trump card, the strongest defense of his position is that he is for continuity and stability and that he has proven himself as a man who can do that."
One of Mubarak's most outspoken critics, Abdel Halim Qandil, said, "Mubarak insists that he is a ruler as a matter of fact, or because of the backing of the military. He needs to realize that he is a ruler of a people and he needs a specific program."
An unprecedented series of small but highly vocal protests in Egypt in recent months have demanded greater democratic reforms while seeking an end to Mubarak's rule.
Opposition groups and at least one of four significant opposition parties said they will boycott the elections, dismissing the government's claims of reform as a farce.