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A week after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's operation to remove his gall bladder, and there are still only partial updates regarding his condition. According to the latest information from the German hospital in which he underwent the operation, the 81-year-old president's health is improving steadily. He has already been released from intensive care and is now in recovery.

The reports from the Heidelberg hospital have sparked concern and tensions in all of Israel's neighboring states. Given Mubarak's advanced age and his recent medical history, an operation is no trivial affair. And as this region tends to do in circumstances such as these, the more concealment there is, the more speculation there is. One thing is clear, whether in the next few months or in the next year or two, Mubarak's rule of almost 30 years is nearing an end.

Although Israel has not said so publicly, it is particularly sensitive to the news emerging from Cairo. The cold peace with Egypt - the characteristic hostility of the elite and the media notwithstanding - is one of Israel's top strategic assets, second only to its alliance with the United States. And even though Egypt has not disguised its disgust with Israel over settlement construction and the killing of Palestinians, the two countries see eye-to-eye on a number of lower-profile issues.

Cairo views Jerusalem as a de facto partner in the moderate camp in the region, trying to stop the influence of the radical axis led by Iran. Even during Operation Cast Lead, despite international criticism of Israel, both states were hyper aware of this goal.

Behind the scenes, there is already evidence of the start of a power struggle in Egypt. The leading candidate to replace Mubarak is his son, Gamal, although other names have been touted, including General Omer Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief and central liaison to Israel's defense establishment. Mubarak is planning to hand the reins of government over to his son around or soon after the next presidential elections, in September 2011. If this happens sooner than expected, the younger Mubarak will find himself having to quickly cement his rule and contend with two challenges: parliamentary elections (taking place next year) and presidential elections shortly afterwards.

Under Egypt's current constitution, there is no real room for a presidential candidate from outside Mubarak's ruling party. The regime will make a real effort to prevent opposition party the Muslim Brotherhood from increasing its influence, but Gamal Mubarak's main concern is not the Islamists, but the possibility of a national uprising over Egypt's poor economic state and government corruption.

If he does become the next president, Mubarak Junior is not expected to deviate from his country's current foreign policy, nor its position on the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, he is likely to face new questions on the democratic nature of the regime, which may give a foothold to new presidential candidates such as Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency, who has won considerable support from the secular opposition.

Posted by Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel on March 14, 2010

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