The Hanging of Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak faces death by hanging. Though today’s newspapers are full of breathless reporting via al-Ahram, the state owned newspaper, Mubarak’s foreordained destination was always the gallows, known at least since April of last year. His sons Ala’a and Gamal, along with six police officers are also on trial for corruption and premeditated murder.
Mubarak’s gurney rolls from his hospital prison cell into the Cairo Police Academy courtroom. He suffers variously from stomach cancer, circulatory problems and a heart condition. Since September, Egyptian television no longer offers live coverage of the trial, though Cairo and much of the Arabic speaking world would flock to the nearest TV set to watch the proceedings, old men screaming epithets at the screens and the erstwhile beneficiaries of Mubarak’s largesse shuddering quietly, sucking philosophically on their hookahs, muttering prayers.
Born in 1928, Hosni Mubarak is an old man, old enough to have flown Spitfire fighters. We’re pretty sure Mubarak fabricated most of his record during the 1973 war with Israel. Mubarak became Anwar Sadat’s toady and mouthpiece and everyone found excellent reasons to tolerate this Devil We Knew ever since. Mubarak’s grinning phiz appears alongside every US president, secretary of state and minor US functionary in the region.
Mubarak was a devil and the USA was entirely complicit in much that he did. With the exception of one year and six months beginning in 1980, Egypt has been under emergency Law 162 of 1958. Constitutional rights were essentially nil, nothing was published without government censorship, street demonstrations and political donations were forbidden. Kifaya, the Egyptian Movement for Change, says as many as 30,000 political prisoners were in prison under the mandate of Law 162 in 2005.
Abdel Harith Madani, a lawyer for Islamist detainees, was tortured and murdered in Egyptian state police custody somewhere between April 26 and May 6 of 1994. Egypt’s Lawyers Syndicate attempted to obtain the autopsy report. Security forces surrounded their building, teargassed and stampeded them into the street where many were injured and subsequently arrested. Many human rights groups called for an investigation. Naturally enough, it was all covered up.
On October 26, 1994, President Clinton visited Cairo, uttering these stern remarks:
Our countries share a commitment to promote economic growth in Egypt as well. At my request, the Vice President met with President Mubarak when he was in Cairo in September, and they initiated a new partnership for economic growth. Earlier this week our two countries agreed to establish new committees to support this partnership. The Vice President will be saying more about that in the next few months. I believe he’ll have the opportunity to come back here.
Again, let me thank President and Mrs. Mubarak for their gracious reception. And let me thank President Mubarak especially again for his leadership in this process. I am confident we would not be where we are today had it not been for him.
Early last year, Matt Latimer, Bush43’s wordsmith observed
It was easy for U.S. presidents to bash regimes with which America did not have productive relationships—easy marks like Iran, Syria, and Cuba. But when it came to confronting dictatorships with which we shared common interests—China and Russia, for example—the language we used was more careful, our actions more forgiving. This was especially true in the Middle East, where Bush frequently castigated the human-rights abuses in Iran and Syria, but seldom shined a spotlight on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Egypt.
Egypt was a particular concern for Bush. Early in 2008, Bush told an assembly of the presidential speechwriting staff that the Mubarak regime was his biggest disappointment. Bush had hoped that the country, with its educated, productive populace, might lead the way for democratic reform in the Middle East, but a crusty apparatchik stood in the way. Nothing was likely to change in Egypt, Bush said, until Mubarak was gone.
Sympathetic reporters touted Bush’s speech as bold and brave. They had no idea that the Egyptians had cowed the most powerful nation in the world to go against their better instincts.
Noting that friendships required candor, Bush would go on to press Egypt to live up to its promises of political and economic reform, and warn of the consequences if they shirked them. We knew, as well as anyone, that the Egyptian people were not enamored with those who ruled them. “The change the people in the Middle East have been looking for is before us,” Bush would say. “The only question left to be asked by the leaders and intellectuals of this region, and in this room, is this: Will you be left behind by this change—or will you choose to lead it?” And then the great moment: Bush would stand in Egypt and call directly for Mubarak to send a message of “goodwill” to the world by ordering his guards to go to the prison where dissidents were held, open the door of the cell where his nemesis was held, and set free one of the world’s most famous political prisoners: Ayman Nour, an Egyptian reformer whose only real crime was to challenge Mubarak in a “free” presidential election.
Matt Latimer’s screed is well worth the read, I assure you. The USA lacks the conviction of its beliefs. Egypt’s revolution largely happened without us. When America had the chance to speak truth to power in Egypt, we didn’t. Dozens of dictators all over the world know we’re not serious about meaningful democratic reforms. Their calculus is simple: get a nuke. America doesn’t invade a country with a nuke.
Carrots and sticks we have in plenty. American foreign policy just doesn’t have to be like this. Perhaps this weakness is intrinsic to our republican form of government with its ever-changing cast of characters: presidents come and go, the dictators can outwait us. America is King Midas in reverse: all we touch turns to shit. Iraq smolders, four million refugees still displaced by ethnic/religious cleansing and worse is yet to come, mark my words. The refugees have returned from Pakistan back to Afghanistan after our invasion yet that miserable country still lacks any semblance of good government.
America has proven faithless to our erstwhile allies and faithless to the rights of man. We poured money, billions every year, into Mubarak’s dictatorial regime, buying peace with Israel. Billions more are showered on Israel, though we see no peace. Even Israel offers Mubarak asylum, remembering his role in keeping the cold peace: every time the nations of the region would shake their fists and go to war, Egypt did most of the fighting and dying. Dictatorships are expensive: Mubarak stole all that money to pay off his supporters and he used the money American gave him to do so. When, at long last, will America come to its senses and stop paying for false peace and undeclared wars?
In 1966, Egypt under Nasser hanged its most important philosopher, Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual father of the Muslim Brotherhood, thereby making a martyr of him. He wrote a little book named Milestones in which he said these words:
It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which is positive and constructive, and which is practicable.
Democracy in the West has become infertile to such an extent that it is borrowing from the systems of the Eastern bloc, especially in the economic system, under the name of socialism. It is the same with the Eastern bloc. Its social theories, foremost among which is Marxism, in the beginning attracted not only a large number of people from the East but also from the West, as it was a way of life based on a creed. But now Marxism is defeated on the plane of thought, and if it is stated that not a single nation in the world is truly Marxist, it will not be an exaggeration. On the whole, this theory conflicts with man’s nature and its needs. This ideology prospers only in a degenerate society or in a society which has become cowed as a result of some form of prolonged dictatorship. But now, even under these circumstances, its materialistic economic system is failing, although this was the only foundation on which its structure was based.
The Muslim Brotherhood won the latest round of elections in Egypt. Lenin was fond of saying prison was the finishing school of the revolutionary and most of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has spent time in Mubarak’s prisons. Egypt’s revolution seems to follow the pattern established in most other such revolutions: a brief period of hysterical exultation followed by an instantaneous reversion to a conservative government intent upon executing the hated dictator and his cronies. Another revolution usually follows hard on its heels, tacking hard into the wind: the dictator becomes a martyr and the revolutionaries are executed. In 1661, upon the re-establishment of the monarchy under Charles II, Oliver Cromwell’s corpse was disinterred from Westminster Abbey, hanged at Tyburn, beheaded, his body thrown into a pit and his rotten skull stood atop a pike outside Westminster Hall for 24 years.
Egypt’s revolution will run aground and another nasty dictator will take Mubarak’s place. It won’t take long. Like the seed that fell on stony ground in the Parable of the Sower, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. The groundwork for substantive democratic reforms in Egypt has not been done.
The sun is rising on Egypt. Its problems remain as dire as ever. The newly-elected Islamists might make some headway at first. Egypt’s burgeoning population, especially the young people, the idealists we cheered in Tahrir Square, lack jobs and resources. The Muslim Brotherhood means well, I do believe, but there’s only so much they can do before they are coopted by the security apparatus which once jailed them. What will become of religious and political minorities in Egypt? The Copts are in serious trouble, as were the Christians of Iraq after the downfall of Saddam. Many Iraqi Christians fled to Egypt and they have not returned. They face an uncertain fate, as do many Libyans who fled into Egypt. The tourist industry, the backbone of the Egyptian economy, is on hard times.
Mubarak isn’t dead yet. Hanging will make a martyr of him and martyrs can only die once, as Sayyid Qutb only died once and lives on in the hearts of many, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor of al-Qaeda. We haven’t seen the last of Egypt’s military aristocracy, not by a long shot, and America’s options are limited. Obama and the State Department are talking to the Muslim Brotherhood, a good sign. But the Muslim Brotherhood remembers its days in prison, when America’s leadership said and did nothing to help them. Mubarak’s fall and America’s subsequent abandonment of the Devil We Knew is even more instructive: America’s friendships never last.