Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ajami: When the Pharoah Falls

Which curb do you want me to kick you to?

Fouad Ajami asked me in 1981 when Sadat had been murdered whether he should go to Cairo for the funeral and be the NBC commentator. At the time I was working as an NBC Asst. Producer and I told him by all means yes. But Fouad demurred, and later became a commentator for another network, and perhaps the best respected expert on Egypt in the US media.

Mubarak's reign in Egypt has lasted as long as the State of Emergency declared back when Sadat was assassinated. Back then, the Emergency was supposed to last for just a couple of weeks and Mubarak was to name his Vice President and putative successor within a short time. The running joke back then in Egypt was that it took Nasser a long time to name Sadat as his VP because he was looking for someone dumber than himself. Ditto for Sadat, who after Nasser's death in 1970 took many years to name Mubarak because HE was looking for someone stupider than himself. And Mubarak after twenty-- years is still looking for THE SAME REASON...!

Now Omar Suleiman is the new VP and an imposter like El Baradei, a puppet of the Iranian mullahs and someone with little political standing in Egypt itself and with a bogus Nobel PP, is linking up with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose most distinguished graduate is Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's right-hand hit man. The Muslim Brotherhood is the godfather of Hamas, a terrorist organization much more murderous and unsavory than the PLO. The Ikhwan will employ El-Baradei and then throw him away like a used Kleenex.

Hopefully, some sort of agreement can be reached whereby Mubarak agrees to leave his perch at the Presidency, as he was up for "re-election" this year anyway. If Omar Suleiman is not the Army's choice, then a new sort of constitution has to be worked out to give the people some sort of REAL participation in electing its leaders. As it is, Egypt's "democracy" vies with Iran's version as to how difficult it is to be on the ballet for the National Assembly. In Iran, the Council of Guardians assures doctrinal purity. In Egypt, real opposition is winnowed out by sheer political and military heft. Here is Ajami's story of Mubarak:
It is hard to know with precision when Hosni Mubarak, the son of middle peasantry, lost the warrant of his people. It had started out well for this most cautious of men. He had been there on the reviewing stand on Oct. 6, 1981 when a small band of young men from the army struck down Sadat as the flamboyant ruler was reviewing his troops and celebrating the eighth anniversary of the October War of 1973.

The new man had risen by grace of his predecessor's will. He had had no political past. The people of Egypt had not known of him. He was the antidote to two great and ambitious figures—Nasser and Sadat. His promise was modesty. He would tranquilize the realm after three decades of tumult and wars and heartbreaking bids to re-make the country.

A deceased friend of mine, an army general of Mr. Mubarak's class and generation, spoke of the man with familiarity: He was a civil servant with the rank of president, he said of his fellow officer. Mr. Mubarak put the word out that he would serve two six-year terms and be gone. But the appetite grew with the eating. The humble officer would undergo a transformation. A presidency-for-life announced itself. And in an astounding change, where Nasser and Sadat feared the will and the changing moods of their countrymen, Mr. Mubarak grew imperious and dismissive.

Egypt bent to his will. A country with a vibrant parliamentary tradition in the 1920s and 1930s became a sterile tyranny. A land that had opened onto Europe in the course of the 19th century, that had given rise to professional syndicates and associations, to an independent judiciary, was brought low.

There has always been an Egyptian pride in their country—even as Egypt tried and failed to modernize, even as its Sisyphean struggle broke its heart and engendered a deep sense of disappointment—and Mr. Mubarak came to offend that sense of national pride.

In the annals of Muslim dynasties and kingdoms, wives and children have figured prominently in the undoing of rulers. An ambitious wife, Suzanne, with haughty manners, and a taste for wealth and power (a variation on the hairdresser Leila Trabelsi, the wife of the deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) and a favored son who, by all indications, was preparing to inherit his father's power, deepened the estrangement between Mr. Mubarak and his people.

Fouad leaves out Sadat's deeply unpopular wife in this tale, but the stories are always made into jokes on the street---invariably the President's wife is easy to find after dark, because she's standing under a bright streetlight...! [Many variations of the unfaithful spouse are repeated in the Arab world. Jokes are the poor man's revenge against power.]

My guess is that any successor to Mubarak will be bad [a variation of the present praetorian regime] or worse [an Ikhwan that flexes its Islamic muscle all across the Islamic world.]

Here's hoping that a miracle will occur and that the status quo ante will return without undue pain and bloodshed.

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