By Khaled Diab
Mr Mubarak, you have the extraordinary knack for snatching mediocrity from the jaws of greatness. But the Egyptian people will write their own future.
Friday 11 February 2011
To our beloathed leader,
Never have so many people awaited one of your speeches with such breathless anticipation. Sadly, for you, it was neither out of love for their leader nor out of admiration for your oratorial skills.
The whole of Egypt, most of the Arab world and millions across the globe were glued to their television sets believing that they would finally hear you utter those magic, wonderful, sweet, magic words. Everyone was excited. The army had said earlier that all the people’s demands would be met when you addressed the nation. Even the Americans seemed convinced that your resignation was in the bag, and Barack Obama waxed lyrical about how the Egyptian people were writing history.
But they are writing it no thanks to you, as you seem hell-bent on rewriting it. The only help you have given is in the most negative sense. You have succeeded in unifying a nation against a common enemy, yourself.
You have the extraordinary knack for snatching mediocrity from the jaws of greatness. You had one final chance to redeem yourself, to salvage some modicum of a legacy by announcing, using the presidential decrees you’ve abused for so long, sweeping reforms to meet all the protesters demands – including a transitional government made up of a ‘Council of the Wise’, free and fair democratic elections, and the limiting of the powers of the presidency – and then resigned.
Instead, as is your wont, you failed to rise to the occasion. When you finally appeared on air, a couple of hours late, you delivered a recorded message that was a study in mundanness and cliché. With the pallor of a made-up corpse in an ill-lit funeral parlour, you spoke like someone who lost all feeling.
Even when you finally expressed sympathy for the fallen, you did it like a sociopath, without emotion, without any acknowledgement that it was your security apparatus and goons who caused these deaths. And when you sought to express empathy with the protesters, you employed a tone of contempt and condescension by attributing it all to youthful zeal. “I was young, too,” you claimed. Yes, you were, in the Jurassic age.
You droned on and on and on again about the six decades of service and sacrifice you’d given to the nation, as if anyone had forced you to do that in a country that would’ve been happy if you’d retired a decade ago, while most wouldn’t have been too disappointed – or even cognisant – if you’d never become president.
You arrogantly called us your children, but we’re not, we’re your hostages, although I managed to escape your cloying clutches years ago. You said it was out of concern for the well-being of Egyptians and Egypt that you would not cede your throne until September to ensure an orderly transition of power.
But what does orderly mean to you, Mr Mubarak? Does it mean finally letting the Egyptian people enjoy their full freedom and exercise their will? Or, more ominously, does it mean restoring your idea of “order”, waiting for the protesters to disperse, and then crushing dissent?
Well, those days are long, Mr ex-president, the game has changed and so have the rules of engagement. Although I remember how much people feared you, and how much more they feared your predecessors, you cannot intimidate or frighten the Egyptian people anymore, as they have bravely demonstrated day in and day out, and as their determination now to march on your palace eloquently shows.
You claim that you are not clinging on to power like some addict who can’t live without a hit refusing to let go of his needle, but because you want to avoid the chaos. But can’t you see that it is only your departure that will avert anarchy? Or do you mean that you are Egypt and Egypt is you?
Over the years, you had so many chances to leave with dignity and pride, and be hailed as the father of Egyptian democracy. After the assassination of your predecessor and the tumultuous last years of his reign, you could have grasped that the Egyptians were already desperate for dignity and freedom and you could have acted as a temporary transitional leader to take the country to that safe port.
Every time, you came to rewrite the constitution to allow you to run for another term in office, you faced increasingly mounting opposition, yet you refused to read the writing on the wall. In 2005, you could’ve made Egypt’s first multi-candidate election a truly democratic race, and perhaps have even been re-elected, but this time with a true mandate, but you let that opportunity slip away from you, as well. And now you and Egypt must reap the storm.
However, despite all the chaos and anarchy you have spread, I am glad of one thing: that when Egyptians gain their freedom it will be because of their own actions and determination, and despite you, not thanks to you. Egyptians will be able to look back on this time with the pride that when the moment of reckoning came they managed to seize their rights with their own hands, and not bestowed upon them by some magnanimous greater power.
Egyptians have discovered their own latent power and, for that, I applaud them.