( AP ) - Egypt's ruling party appointed President Hosni Mubarak's son to an important new committee Saturday in a move seen as further paving the way for the younger Mubarak to succeed his father.
Gamal Mubarak has risen dramatically in the ranks of the party since the National Democratic Party's last convention in 2002 and is now number two in the party and head of the powerful policy making committee.
Three years ago, there were angry protests against his succession. Recently, demonstrations have waned, but talk of succession picked up over the summer following rumors that Mubarak was ill.
Traditionally, the presidential candidate had to be head of the party's political bureau. But in the spring, the constitution was changed to require only that the candidate be chosen from the members of a new structure called the Supreme Committee.
Saturday's measure, passed during the opening day of the party's general convention, elected Gamal to that committee, which has 50 members. The move is seen as a more discreet way of setting him up as a presidential candidate than appointing him to the party's political bureau.
Analysts say the move provides the with constitutional cover to elevate Mubarak to power, a subtle way to counter the growing challenge by the opposition.
Both father and son have denied the succession rumors. But many doubt those denials and point to a recent crackdown against the media as intimidation of potential critics of the transition.
Mubarak and his ruling party struck back - sending a prominent independent newspaper chief to trial over articles he ran questioning Mubarak's health. The move was the latest in a string of trials of journalists that appears aimed at intimidating those who could oppose a transfer of power to Gamal.
Mubarak, who has led Egypt since 1981, was re-elected as the leader of the NDP during the opening session of Saturday's convention.
The 79-year-old president said employment, investment and national security would top the agenda during his ruling party's convention, but carefully avoided any talk of succession.
Even if party members avoid the sensitive succession topic, discussion of Egypt's economy could prove controversial.
While the World Bank ranked Egypt as the world's most improved economy for investors this year, and the country has seen an average growth rate of 7 percent over the last three years, the poor increasingly feel squeezed out. Their frustration could pose an even greater threat to stability than the government's traditional political rivals such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recent months, government has been trying to rein in the largest spate of labor unrest the country has seen in decades. About a month ago, the government rushed to resolve a strike of 27,000 workers at a factory in the Nile Delta.