Faced with the grim prospects of prolonged political virginity, Khaled Diab decides to make President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak an indecent proposal.
Dear President Mubarak,
I am 31 years old and still a political virgin. It's hard for a man of my age to make such an admission, but I have to confess that I've never voted. There, the truth is out!
In my own defence, I have to say that I was saving myself. I didn't want to give myself to any old perverted electoral process. I felt that taking part in the farce of a rigged referendum would somehow contaminate me, make me impure.
So, you will forgive me that I did not vote in the previous referendum in 1999. That's not because you are necessarily a bad president, but how can I measure how good you are without a benchmark? During the run up to that vote, I was travelling in Europe.
It was quite surreal and disturbing upon my return to be confronted with your face everywhere I turned. I thought I'd landed in Damascus, not in Cairo. I was under your constant gaze as you stared out at me from thousands of posters and banners that lined Cairo's streets.
You can imagine how frustrating all this waiting must be for someone who came of age so long ago. Just the other night I had this bizarre dream that I was being lured and enticed not merely by one but by four presidential candidates.
After that near-electoral experience, I'm dead set now on losing my virginity and only you can help. Pardon my audacity, Mr President, but I've decided to throw caution to the wind and make a political pass at you.
A date but no mandate
As you approach that possible fifth term in office, I would like to congratulate you. After 24 years, you have the distinction of being Egypt's longest serving president. The upcoming presidential referendum has been slated for September. This may give people the chance to rubberstamp your candidacy, but it does not give you a legitimate mandate to rule. What we need is a proper multi-candidate presidential race.
After such a good run, perhaps now's the time for you to step aside gracefully and let others fight it out for the prized mantle. At 76, you are no longer a spring chicken. After a lifetime of hard work, you've earned your retirement.
Besides, you've been complaining for years about the burdens of being president: feeding and housing and creating jobs for an unruly people that multiply like rabbits. “Governing Egypt is no picnic,” you said in a recent interview. “It's tough. You have limited resources, a growing population, and the needs of the people. That makes me exert a massive effort.”
Mr Mubarak, your job, if I am not mistaken, is to serve the people. And, as one of those people, I have to admit that this is not the kind of attitude I expect from a respectable establishment. If a shop or restaurant manager moaned about what a burden it was serving his customers, he would not last long. I don't see why the top politician in the land should be held up to a lesser standard.
In recent months, there has been a swarm of speculation about whether you would stand for another six-year spell as president. Some said you would, others said you couldn't. Many believed you might be grooming your oldest son, Gamal, to succeed you, others said that Egypt was not Syria and there was no way you could get away with that.
Up until now, you've refused to reveal your cards and have given conflicting comments. The only thing you seemed willing to rule out was that Gamal would not inherit your position – which is just as well given that we live in a republic.
Then, this month, you suggested that you would be standing for another term. You can imagine my disappointment that, after suggestively wiggling reform before our noses, you concealed it again under your dictator's cape.
As you have so often done in the past, you implied that there was no one else who could do the job better than you – no one with the necessary experience. Well, with the office of president not accepting any new appointments, that's hardly surprising. But I'm ready to accept some inexperienced new blood.
“One is Egyptian president with the will of the people. If the people don't want you, no matter what you do, there's no use. If the people want you, there's no way out,” you claimed.
But, Mr President, in case you hadn't noticed, people are not particularly keen on you. Journalists, intellectuals, political parties, secularists and Islamists, and millions of ordinary people are saying, ‘enough stalling, we want reform'. There is even a broad-based coalition called just that – Kifaya! (Enough!). But it seems that when it comes to your appetite for power, kifaya is not enough.
A turn up for the history books
I would like the history books to recall more about your presidency than merely its duration. You can make history and set a new precedent by becoming the first Egyptian president to step down without being ousted by your inner circle or dethroned by death. In fact, the last time we had a living ex-president was Mohamed Neguib, and he spent most of those years under house arrest.
Compared with Nasser and Sadat, some observers say your presidency has been low key. You haven't been a big-gesture president. You have been more concerned with patiently mending Egypt's relations with the Arabs (which Sadat undermined) and with the West (which Nasser strained). As you are fond of pointing out, Egypt hasn't enjoyed such good relations with the outside world as it has under your tutelage. But even your friends abroad call you a dictator behind your back.
You are also fond of saying that Egypt has never enjoyed such stability and prosperity as during your presidency. If that is the case, then why, pray explain, has the country been in a constant state of emergency since you took office? Stability and emergency are not comfortable bedfellows – you can only have one or the other. Egypt is either secure or in crisis – which is it, Mr President?
However, I understand that you are preoccupied with how you will be remembered after you pass away. You are concerned that you have no defining moments associated with your presidency.
Some suggest that your ambitious Toshka master plan to turn big parts of the desert green and mobilise the biggest human resettlement in history is not only driven by demographics and economics but also by a powerful desire to perpetuate your name.
But Egypt needs more than physical re-landscaping. It is in urgent need of major changes to its political and economic geography. Before you die, you owe it to the people to mend internal fences, to fix the cracks in the political system and the economy, and finally deliver – half a century too late – on the revolution's promise to give us democracy.
You might say that you'll push through reforms during your next term. But can you guarantee that you'll live another six years? You have not allowed any clear successor nor a political framework for choosing one to emerge. What kind of mayhem and instability will this cause if you do die unexpectedly?
It is not too late to say you will not be standing for another term, to lift the state of emergency and to push through reforms of the constitution – and make all my dreams come true.
After being president pharaoh for so long, giving up the massive powers you enjoy won't be easy. This is partly because the rumours about your and your family's murkier dealings – particularly your son Alaa's business affairs – might be confirmed as fact once you're out of office, and all those prisoners of conscience may seek justice.
But Egyptians are not vindictive. No rivers of Bolshevik blood were spilt when the terminally corrupt monarchy was toppled. I'm sure if you grant Egyptians their political liberty, they'll allow you and your family to keep your freedom.
Rayis, this is your chance to leave your mark and be forever remembered as the father of modern Egyptian democracy. Don't let the opportunity pass you by.
This article appeared in the 26 January edition 2005 of Al Jazeerah.