Hosni Mubarak is the living – and slowly dying – symbol of dictators deaf to
He thought he could divert their frustration against his
repressive regime by stirring up anger toward Israel. It worked only partially;
the peace treaty with Israel remains unfulfilled and unpopular in Egypt largely
because he failed to build a constituency for peace. But it didn’t secure his
own future, as history has painfully proven.
I attended a meeting with
Mubarak several years ago in Washington when he was asked about the intensity of
anti-Semitism and anti-Israel invective in the Egyptian media. He denied any
responsibility, insisting, with a straight face, that Egypt had a free press and
he couldn’t control it. And almost as an afterthought, he said his people
occasionally need to “let off steam.”
In other words, better they take
out their anger and frustration on the Jews than on me.
But it worked
only partially. Today Egyptians are demonstrating in massive numbers against
him, angry that a court had sentenced him “only” to life in prison for his role
in the deaths of several hundred unarmed protesters during last year’s
revolution that overthrew his 30-year dictatorship.
They were outraged
that he hadn’t gotten the death penalty.
Disappointed Egyptians may take
their revenge on the presidential ambitions of Mubarak’s last prime minister,
Ahmed Shafik, who hopes to overcome that association by campaigning as the law
and order candidate in the June 16-17 runoff. His opponent, Mohamed Morsi of the
Muslim Brotherhood, said the sentence was too light and suggested that as
president he would “renew the trial and avenge the blood of the
AS THE ailing ex-dictator lay in a track suit on his hospital
gurney in a wire cage in the Cairo courtroom where once judges, prosecutors and
lawyers unquestioningly did his bidding, he may have momentarily thought back to
several visits by Condoleezza Rice, perhaps even wishing he’d taken her
The American secretary of state came repeatedly to press upon him
the need for democratic reform. It was part of the Bush 43’s crusade to spread
democracy to the Arab world. That was one of the false excuses for the Iraq
Dictators like Mubarak didn’t like the American message. They
promised reform but as soon as Rice left town it was out of sight, out of mind.
Mubarak, like Syria’s Bashar Assad and others in their homicidal fraternity,
feared giving too much freedom could only whet the masses’ appetite for
The Bush administration had a good idea but handled it badly. It
pressed the Israeli government and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to let
Hamas participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections despite its refusal to
meet the basic requirements of the US, EU and Israel – recognize Israel, abandon
terror and accept prior Israel-PA agreements – and the result was
Similarly Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanese elections
gave that terror group virtual control of the Beirut government.
today has a quasi-democratic government but it is dominated by Shi’ites more
closely aligned with Iran than with the United States, which put them in
When Rice brought her message of reform to pro-democracy activists
Cairo in 2006, she was essentially told by the regime to shut up and mind her
own business. After she left Mubarak told a government newspaper that she
“didn’t bring up difficult issues or ask to change anything.”
was unwilling to press Mubarak too hard to make reforms because it feared losing
his cooperation on other fronts, particularly on keeping peace with Israel,
however chilly it was, and his backing for Fatah over Hamas.
to the Americans, particularly after the Hamas victory, was “if I go the
Islamists will take over and you don’t want that.” It was a persuasive argument
since opposition forces were outlawed and unable to organize or build
Despite being banned, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose theme
was “Islam is the Solution,” with its base in the mosques and its underground
network was able to emerge as a serious force following the
All others are struggling to catch up.
Some in Israel
have accused the United States of not doing enough to prevent Mubarak’s
downfall, but there was nothing Washington or Jerusalem could have done to save
the Mubarak regime, and the fact that they were perceived as his backers and
later as opponents of the revolution only hurt them both.
When I was in
Egypt a couple of months before the revolution broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir
square – peacefully until regime security forces and thugs weighed in – I
conducted a very unscientific poll asking ordinary Egyptians I met whether
Mubarak should run for another six-year term in 2011.
With rare exception
the answer was no.
It’s not easy for folks on the street to speak against
the dictator in a regime with a reputation for brutality and repression, which
made their responses more interesting, albeit a bit guarded.
me he has served long enough and deserves rest and retirement; he’s OK but the
people around him are bad and should go; his sons are too corrupt, new blood is
needed. Translation: it’s time for a change.
Change is coming. The United
States and Israel won’t be too happy with it, and with a choice between remnants
of the old regime and the prospect of Islamic rule, Egyptians who had been
yearning for greater freedom and democracy are also likely to be very
©2012 DouglasMBloomfield. bloomfieldcolumn@ gmail.com