Diary of Dictator M, aged 82¾: fight, not flight

 
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As uncovered by Khaled Diab

In the second leaked extract from his secret diaries, President M is enraged by what he sees as an unpresidented act of cowardice and treachery.

Friday 18 February 2011

14 January 2011

I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. How could Zine do it? How could he permit himself to abandon his post like some common criminal fleeing the scene of a crime, rather than staying put like the resistance hero and army man he’s supposed to be?

I don’t know if I can ever forgive cowardice of this sort – and from a man who never tired of boasting about how his political iron fist kept his subjects faithful and his social velvet glove kept them sweet. And to think that he used to berate me for being too soft, for not crushing the independent media and that stupid Kefaya movement calling for my resignation, as if Egypt would be better off without me – I, who fixed the wreck my predecessors left me.

“Let the dogs bark. It’s only when they try to bite or begin to believe that they’re wolves that they need to be culled,” I had told him once nonchalantly, hiding my irritation at his affront to my manhood, in an informal meeting he and I had after a particularly ugly Arab League summit during which that Q (or G as he’s known at home), who thinks he’s Nasser’s prodigy and a film star or something, managed to insult every head of state in the room.

“These ideas of freedom can spread like a deadly virus if not wiped out immediately,” Zine had had the gall to lecture me. “If not for yourself, then think about your brothers in arms.”

“Brothers in arms,” I’d thought, stifling a very unstatesmanly snort of derision. “Where was this brotherhood when Tunisia helped stab Egypt in the back and agreed to the relocation of the Arab League to Tunis?” But not wishing to go down the Q path of insults and silly allegations, I sat up stiffly in my chair to indicate that our time was up. “We have the vaccine for any virus and the antidote for any venom,” I retorted mysteriously. The truly tough don’t need to boast about it. There are men who can do the talking and true men who can do the walking.

On the phone with a visibly rattled and panicky president telling me he was desperately looking around for shelter from the storm, I decided to let loose my years of suppressed annoyance. “Who’s abandoning the cause now, brother Zine? What happened to your iron fist? Did it get blunted by the velvet glove? All these years, have you been a pussy cat pretending to roar like a lion?”

“Even lions know that there comes a time when they are outnumbered and must retreat,” he roared angrily down the phone. “I would advise you to have an exit strategy if you don’t have one already, my dear friend,” he said, calming.

“Exit? Egypt? No way. Not if all hell breaks loose. I am a son of the Nile and I will die on this country’s sacred soil,” I stated defiantly and eloquently, making a mental note that I should use this in a speech to silence all those envious of my power who have to resort to criticising my speaking skills.

“Before you commit your cowardly deed, your action could make the virus you feared for so long mutate into a thousand and one deadly strains,” I warned him. When this had no effect, I tried a different track: “Leaders like us have very few places to hide. The times are changing. They’ll get you extradited back to face trial or say you embezzled from the state and seize all your foreign assets.”

“Don’t worry, my good friend Sarkozy will take me in and my wealth is well-hidden,” he assured me. “And if not, there’s always you, my old friend. You’ve done wonders with Sharm el-Sheikh.”

“Cowards are not welcome here,” I screamed at him, before slamming down the phone and collapsing out of breath. A moment of darkness later, I saw Gamal’s reassuring face staring down at me.

“Don’t get yourself so worked up, father, it’s not good for your condition. You’re still the rayes whether people like it or not,” he comforted me. I smiled up helplessly. I don’t know where I’d be without Gamal’s youth and brains, especially after all the trials of my long and trying career. “And if they try, we ready with plans A to Z to deal with them. And if all else fails, I’ve already prepared a number of escape routes.”

“Escape?” I asked in disbelief. “Even you, Gamal?”

“And we can work together to ensure that your hard-earned fortune is well hidden from prying eyes,” he continued.

Will Dictator M face the ultimate standoff with his ungrateful people? Will he stay to fight or will he take flight? Find out in the next leaked entry. Coming soon. Read part I

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Diary of Dictator M, aged 82¾: a panicked call from Tunisia

 
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As uncovered by Khaled Diab

In the first leaked extract from President M’s diaries, he calms an alarmed fellow dictator in Tunisia.

4 February 2011

25 December 2010

After an exhausting day of sending out Christmas wishes to all my friends in the West, I got a late night call from Zine. What a panic he’s in – and all because of some protests in a tiny little town I’ve never even heard of. He couldn’t believe that a nobody from nowhere special could turn a whole city against him. Yes, what a curious case, I reflected. “Truly, he places His secrets in His weakest creations,” I mused.

“A pest, a parasite trading without a licence gets caught by the police, who do their job and punish him and what does he do? He burns himself alive, like a spineless coward, without a thought for the sacredness of human life,” he fumed. “And what do people do? Rather than criticise his cowardice and say what he did was haram, they celebrate him as a hero. Now, I’m afraid the flames he ignited will spread across the country.”

“Your eminence, calm yourself, cool down,” I counselled, privately thinking that this man whom I’d long admired looks like he may drown in an inch of water. “Some rabble rousers taking to the streets is nothing to lose sleep over.”

“But what if it spreads to the rest of the country?”

“Who said it would spread? You are the envy of the region; you have the quietest, most respectful population in the whole of North Africa,” I reassured him.

“But what about that other idiot who electrocuted himself a couple of days ago? People are also holding him up as some kind of ‘martyr’. What if these maniacs continue their suicide attacks against me?”

“Don’t worry. You can easily contain the situation. The boy who burnt himself is alive, right? Well, just visit him in hospital to show sympathy with his plight and, by extension, that of all poor, young Tunisians,” I recommended. “Then, things will calm down, and the waters will return to their natural channels. And if they don’t, you’re no stranger to cracking down hard.”

“Wise words, Mr President,” he said, cheering up. Then he remembered something, and his tone darkened. “But how can my people side with some out-of-work riffraff over their leader who has done so much to bring wealth and stability to them?”

“Some people are such ingrates,” thinking of my own unthankful opponents. “Don’t let it get to you. The vast majority of your people love and respect you. You are, as your name suggests, the cream of Tunisia’s worshippers.”

“Thank you, Hozz,” Zine replied, making me cringe at his informality. No one uses pet names with me apart from Suzanne and then only in private after I’ve checked my room for bugs. “You, too, are the living embodiment of your name: you are blessed and a blessing upon the great land of Egypt, the Mother of the World,” he added, deflecting my annoyance at his casualness with me, and filling me with a warm feeling.

“I know that I can always count on your appreciation, my valued colleague in arms, it’s just a shame that my people are not as respectful, after all the sacrifices I’ve made for this nation during six decades of public service, in the army, on the battlefield, as vice-president and as president,” I complain to what I know is a sympathetic ear, before we say our goodbyes.

After all that, the wretched opposition keeps on asking for my resignation, as if I’m president for the fun and games; as if anyone of those losers could do my job, could carry the burdens of this thankless and trying and exhausting trial. They’re just power-hungry and greedy – and they call me corrupt. Any personal gains I’ve made on the job, I’ve ensured that Egypt has reaped a hundredfold.

“The bulk of the Egyptian people are still behind me,” I comforted myself before turning in for the night.

Don’t miss the next exclusive extract. Coming soon.

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The Jasmine Revolution

 
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By Osama Diab

Tunisia’s revolution will spread the scent of its jasmine to oppressed nations all over the region.

1 February 2011

Analysts and experts never cease to analyse the sociopolitical nature of the Arab world. Especially since 9/11, most have set their expectations low and been cynical about any social or political change taking place in the land of strongmen and dictatorial power. We, Middle Easterners, have been accused of being passive, unable to mobilise, and unwilling to fight for our rights.

After blowing all over the globe, the long-awaited winds of political change have decided to finally visit the Middle East. North African countries have in the past few years seen a large number of riots, sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations to protest low wages and the high cost of living, but a ruthless police state has always stopped these outcries of anger and frustration from developing into a popular revolution ousting a regime from power. Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution on 14 January  2011 marked the first successful attempt to overthrow a dictator by a popular revolution. And it took place in a country that was thought to be one of the most stable in a region where autocracy was believed to be deep-rooted and nearly impossible to abolish.

The people of Tunisia proved us all wrong by forcing dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out in a way unprecedented in the Arab world. The only way an Arab dictator would take his suitcase and escape his own country used to be through a military coup, until a few days ago, thanks to the people of Tunisia.

But what does that mean to neighboring countries like Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt? No one can claim it will have no impact, because it already has. At least four people have self-immolated in Egypt out of desperation, which is how it all started in Tunisia when Mohamed Bouazizi burnt himself to death sparking non-stop riots for three weeks to protest against deteriorating living conditions and high unemployment. Riots have erupted in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria since Tunisia’s uprising.

Democracy, like authoritarianism, is contagious. It is hard to find a standalone democracy surrounded by dictatorships, or vice versa. In the Autumn of Nations in 1989, a few Eastern European countries overthrew their communist regimes, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of many communist regimes in the region after that. Communism was not hurt just in Eastern Europe, but in many countries all over the world following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Another major ripple effect was Latin America’s serious steps towards democracy over the past three decades in a fashion rarely seen in the developing world. If real democracy takes hold in Tunisia, it will increase the chances of it happening elsewhere close by.

However, it’s hard to predict the extent of the effect on neighbouring countries because, even though they belong to the same region and share a lot in common, every country still has a different economic, social and political nature. Copying and pasting a Tunisian scenario in Egypt, Libya, Algeria or Morocco is unlikely to happen. However, North Africa now seems well prepared and more ready than ever to dispose of its authoritarian regimes and gradually start a new era of people’s empowerment due to a steady increase of dissidence and a growing political momentum in some of these countries, in reaction to dire economic situations, high levels of corruption and worsening human rights conditions.

Even though Tunisia’s revolution might not be replicated, it will still bring many benefits to the people of neighbouring countries.

Firstly, it acts as a clear warning message to authoritarian regimes that over-relying on security apparatuses to remain in power with no popular support is unsustainable. It also conveys the message that the economic and political rights of the masses must be dealt with, and cannot be silenced by a heavy hand.

Secondly, it ends the myth that Islamists are the only groups capable of toppling regimes in this region – an idea established after the Iranian revolution and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, one that has been used by secular dictatorships in the North African region as a scare tactic to win the West’s support. The idea is simple: imposed secular authoritarianism has been for long preferred over an elected Islamic regime by the world’s superpowers. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once stated that the United States has long favoured stability over democracy in the Middle East and ended up achieving neither.

It also implies that the way for a government to gain legitimacy is from its own people rather than by allying with superpowers, as they all turned their back on Ben Ali after he was overthrown by his people. France, his biggest former ally, has refused to grant him asylum. Many regimes relied solely on their alliance with Western superpowers at the expense of their own people. This might no longer be a good bargain for Arab dictators.

Whether or not we will see the fall of one North African regime after the other is hard to predict and not guaranteed, but the good news is that Tunisia’s revolution will spread the scent of its jasmine to oppressed nations all over the region, inspiring and empowering people in their fight against unjust regimes.

This article was first published by Worldpress.org on 31 January 2011. Republished here with the author’s consent. ©Osama Diab.

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