As disgraced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s health deteriorates – and he apparently has slipped into grave condition – the man who loves him best is the one who stands to gain most by this situation.
Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who faces a run-off vote June 16 and 17 against Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, has made no secret of his affection for Mr. Mubarak, referring to him as his "role model."
It was Mr. Mubarak who appointed Major General Shafiq, then chief of the air force, first as civil aviation minister then, in the last days of the regime, as prime minister. It was said by many that the efficient Gen. Shafiq was president Mubarak’s pick to succeed him. (Mr. Mubarak was said to know that the powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would never accept Mr. Mubarak’s son, Gamal, as his successor since the younger man had never served in the military let alone risen to a high position.)
In this first truly open election for president, Gen. Shafiq received about 25 per cent of first-round votes, just a few ballots fewer than Mr. Morsi.
The handsome 70-year-old Gen. Shafiq, a renowned fighter-pilot in his younger days, was the choice of the pro-Mubarak crowd, of Christians and Sufi Muslims who fear the possibility of an Islamic regime, and of citizens who simply crave a return to law and order.
They and many other Egyptians – both people who supported some of the other candidates in the initial round and the more than 53 per cent of the electorate who did not vote – were disturbed either by the former president’s recent conviction as an accessory to murder, or by the life sentence he received.
"He’s a former war hero," one woman said at the time of the verdict. "He’s suffered enough," she said, referring to having lost his high office and enduring the indignity of prison. It’s a common sentiment. Even Egyptians who dislike the man for his human rights excesses or alleged corruption don’t like to see any man of his age, 84, treated so harshly.
And Gen. Shafiq is the beneficiary of all this sympathy.
More than that, the protests that have erupted since the verdict on Saturday, while not nearly as large as they would have been had Mr. Mubarak been acquitted, are once again troubling large sectors of the electorate.
Fed up with the chaos, the absence of tourism, the decline of investment and the slumping economy, people want it all to be over.
In Gen. Shafiq they see a man who will end the anarchy. He has vowed to end the protests "within six hours."
The longer the current protests continue, the greater the support will be for Gen. Shafiq.
And should his patron, Mr. Mubarak, die before the vote, the regret that many Egyptians would feel will translate immediately into a large turnout for Gen. Shafiq and the old-fashioned order he offers.