Until the past few weeks, Hosni Mubarak could have been forgiven for feeling complacent as he viewed the upcoming presidential elections in September.
But now even the 30-year old emergency law is no longer able to quell the growing street protests.
Mubarak is 82 years old and has ruled Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world with 80 million inhabitants, since 1981.
In 2005 he won the country’s first ever multi-party presidential elections although the outcome was never really in doubt. The poll was dismissed by many commentators as cosmetic.
A former air force commander, Mubarak has a military background like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, who was killed by Islamists at a parade in 1981. Mubarak counts on the support of the military.
In November, elections once again awarded a crushing majority to the president’s party, the National Democratic Party.
Mubarak’s failing health has fuelled rumours he is thinking of handing over power to his youngest son Gamal Mubarak. The 47-year old holds a prominent position in the ruling NDP but, unlike his father, he does not have the support of the military, or even the people.
A former banker with the Bank of America, he was responsible for the introduction of many economic liberalisation measures – lauded by investors but detested by many Egyptians.
The opposition does not have much of a voice in Egypt although the regime has allowed it some room for expression, and some room to fight among itself.
Banned but tolerated, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood appears ambivalent about the protests, neither backing them nor banning supporters from taking part.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam al-Arian said: “We predict that closing the doors, rigging the elections, forecasting the workers’ unions and professional unions, preventing even students from choosing their student union freely, that will accumulate and accumulate and lead to an explosion. We are facing the explosion.”
As the first Arab state to make peace with Israel – peace documents were signed at Camp David in 1978 – Egypt is of significant strategic importance to the United States, which has poured billions of dollars into the country over the past three decades in military and general aid.