Friday, May 26, 2006

Egypt abuzz over Mubarak fiancée

These people are just living off the fat of the land..

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — When a stunning young blonde turned up this week at a conference of world leaders in this sun-drenched Egyptian resort town, all talk of nuclear rights and democratic reform momentarily was replaced by a single question: Is that her?

It was.

The United States is home to Brangelina. Britain worships Posh and Becks. And now Egypt has Jimmy and Diga, the nicknames that friends have given Gamal Mubarak, the 42-year-old son and possible successor of Egypt's president, and his striking new fiancée, Khadiga el-Gammal, 24.

The couple's public debut at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a conference that drew top government officials from around the world, instantly set tongues wagging and Web logs blazing as Egyptians debated every tiny detail of the mystery woman whom some already refer to as the future first lady.

In a country whose first ladies have included Cleopatra, a Hungarian countess and the Turkish granddaughter of the last Ottoman sultan, it's only natural that Egyptians clamored for a glimpse of el-Gammal, the daughter of a wealthy Cairo construction magnate.

But interest in her and her fiancé, the son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is more than gossip. Although Gamal Mubarak has denied that he'll follow his father into the presidency, analysts say few other contenders have the political clout to mount an effective campaign.

The ruling National Democratic Party has pitched Gamal Mubarak as a familiar name and face who says all the right things about revamping his father's staid system. He recently was named a deputy secretary general of the party, and this month he made an unofficial visit to Washington, where he met with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

El-Gammal contributes much to his chances of success, analysts say. She adds a glamorous new face to the authoritarian regime and lends a seriousness to the younger Mubarak's reputation. Some note that she shares the name of the Prophet Muhammad's first wife and wonder if an effort to appease Egypt's vast Islamist movement factored into the match.

Her appearance here immediately drew comparisons to Jordan's Queen Rania, the stylish, smart and outspoken monarch's wife who has redefined the role of an Arab first lady and who spoke during the conference's closing ceremonies. A black-clad el-Gammal sat in the audience, whispering to her fiancé.

She graduated last year from the American University in Cairo. Classmates told Knight Ridder that the president's son first spotted his future wife at an upscale Asian restaurant, that she enjoys soccer and volleyball, that classmates sometimes mistook her shy demeanor for snobbishness, and that she doesn't care about the nearly 20-year age gap between her and her betrothed.


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