Speaking at the start of the National Democratic Party's three-day event, seen by some observers as part of efforts to groom him for leadership, Gamal Mubarak called for "modernisation" of both the country's legislature and administration.

"We want political parties to play a more dynamic role," he said, advocating legal reforms "to lift the obstacles that hinder their action ... a big step in developing political life in Egypt."

The 40-year-old younger son of the Egyptian leader, who also heads an NDP policy-making body, called for the "modernisation of trade union laws and a strengthened role for civil institutions."

Legal reforms should include the penal code, to "guarantee human rights" and end "sexual discrimination," he said.

Role of the people

He also advocated "a new pact between the state and the citizen" to allow people to play a greater role in "political participation".

In a statement to the congress, President Mubarak further stressed that his party was determined to pursue "political and economic reform".

He promised to "lay the foundations of a multi-party politics, in which the NDP ... will be one of the pillars".

President Husni Mubarak (L) with French President Jacques Chirac earlier this month

In the message read by Information Minister and party secretary general Safwat al-Sharif, said, "the rights of citizens are a priority (for the NPD and the government) and closely linked to democratisation."

He vowed that he wanted to "guarantee the rights of all citizens and that they would be treated by the state as partners, playing an effective role in decision-taking".

Greater influence

President Mubarak also asked the congress to consider Egypt's monetary policy in the wake of the loosening of exchange rates, begun in January, and the consequent rise in prices, and rural and urban development.

Analysts have predicted that his son Gamal may emerge from the congress with greater influence in setting national policy.

Although he is not likely to be named to a new post, he could see his position enhanced, they said, bolstering persistent speculation that Mubarak, 75 and in power since 1981, is grooming Gamal to succeed him one day.

Hundreds of Egyptians protested at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque on Friday against Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the US-led occupation of Iraq.

Over the last year, he has become increasingly influential in the NPD, although the authorities have poured cold water on suggestions that he will succeed his father.

Hundreds of delegates have descended on Cairo to attend the three-day summit. The NPD has at least half a million members and a parliamentary majority of 410 out of a possible 454 seats.

Protests

Meanwhile, hundreds of Egyptians protested at Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque on Friday against Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories and the US-led occupation of Iraq, state media reported.

The faithful, who gathered outside the mosque, the highest seat of Sunni Islam, following weekly prayers, waved Palestinian and Iraqi flags, said the MENA news agency.

They also chanted slogans denouncing US President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Demonstrations are officially banned in Egypt under emergency laws which have been in place since 1981, but they are tolerated if they take place in mosque compounds or university campuses.