Written by By Chika Otuchikere:

Power has been temporarily transferred from the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to the country’s prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, on account of a surgery operation the president underwent yesterday in a German hospital. The prime minister is to hold the reins of power until the president is able to return.

The government’s official Middle East News Agency disclosed that Mubarak, 81, would undergo surgery for the inflammation of his gallbladder and has temporarily handed over to the prime minister. The country has no vice president.

“Mubarak is undergoing surgery on his gallbladder because he has been suffering severe inflammation,” the state-run Nile TV said. Mubarak will be operated on at Heidelberg University Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Annette Tuffs said. An exam of Mubarak yesterday showed “chronic inflammation of the gallbladder,” the government press office said.

Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 28 years. The country’s presidential elections are scheduled for 2011. Mubarak was said to be visiting Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Magdy Rady, the cabinet spokesman, said Nazif, 58, will stay in Egypt until Mubarak is back. “It’s business as usual,” Rady said.

Mubarak has been in power since 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat during a military parade by soldiers belonging to an underground Islamic group. He has kept to the peace treaty with Israel that took effect in 1979 and, in the past two years, tried to mediate between feuding Palestinians in hopes of getting peace talks for a Palestinian state next to Israel under way.

Succession?

The aging leader has kept succession possibilities firmly linked to his ruling National Democratic Party. Rules introduced in 2006 require presidential candidates to belong to the NDP or established opposition parties, which have virtually no popular support. If an independent wants to run, he must win endorsement by parliament and local councils, all dominated by the NDP. The country’s biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is not recognised by the government as a political party.

Speculation on a successor to Mubarak has swirled since 2003 when he fainted during a session of parliament. In Cairo, democratic activists have campaigned to prevent a possible dynastic succession to Mubarak’s son Gamal, 47. He heads the NDP’s policy committee. Gamal denies he’s running for president.

Mohammed El-Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is campaigning for constitutional changes that would widen the field for presidential candidates. During a visit to Cairo last month, El-Baradei formed a group of 30 opposition politicians and activists to press for new rules.

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