How Mubarak Acquitted Himself

The author of this blog will note that he never liked Mubarak. It was not a reasoned response, but a visceral reaction. Mubarak seemed to embody the worst aspects of Egyptian male misbehavior, controlling, domineering, occasionally indifferent, sometimes sneering, and at other times self-pitying. The reaction was enough to persuade this former Egyptian to avoid the country for the duration of his rule, and beyond. Mubarak made being born in Egypt a congenital condition worthy of seeking cure in a larger and perhaps less visible identity. Of course, it is wrong to pin all the blame on Mubarak; but he was case 1 of what has gone wrong in Egypt. He lived on to see himself, and by turns, his country humbled. Yet one senses that no grand understanding came his way. His derisive survival mocked his country as poor and humble and incapable of greatness.

There were some positive aspects to the long years of Mubarak. The Army was persuaded to stay away from politics. Infant mortality was reduced dramatically. He made deft moves diplomatically in the 1990s to have the country’s external debt wiped off.  He tried to open up some political room for the Muslim Brotherhood. He made stumbling steps toward liberalizing the economy. Yet, every positive step lived in the shadow of greater errors.  But few of his errors match his performance in February 2011, and none of his successes are as great as his final acquittal in court.

Mubarak insisted that he stood between Egypt and disaster. We are tempted to think of this as the refrain of a humble and limited man who rose above all he ever expected to be, only because he never did much about it. He was not delusional enough to expect immortality, yet he never developed leadership to follow him and stave off disaster. He never even appointed a Vice President, until he was nearly gone. He raised his palms against a nation, insisting that it should not look behind him where abyss looms, but did nothing to point to a better direction. He got away with it because his opponents were too pious or too foolish to point out this simple fact. They railed against him as a dictator, but demonstrated little liberality themselves.

Mubarak’s greatest sin came in February 2011. He attempted to stay in office by a patronizing display of self-pity. He begged his nation to respect him as an elderly father. He should have taken a different tack. He should have simply explained that to shove him off with 6 months remaining in his term would legitimatize arbitrary transfer of power to the Army by street mobs, and God help a country that sets up such a precedent. He should have begged to stay on as the elderly humble Bawab, who would sweep around while younger men built a better structure. His final magic act would have been to finish his term humbled for the sins of his errors. But a man capable of such reach would not have stayed in office for so long, nor left a vacuum in his wake.  His final atonement and redemption would be to offer his country a Shakespearean tragic denouement. He went for the tawdry television serial.

If Mubarak’s greatest error came in February 2011, his final success came afterwards. We should praise him for what he did not do. He did not flee the country. He did not beg for mercy. He stood in court, judged by men we judge inferior, even by his lowered standards. There was indeed the flood after him. A torrential downpour of errors, and blood. Nowhere near as much blood as the rest of the cursed region, but far too much by Egypt’s perceived gentle standards. In the end he was acquitted of charges that could not be proved, but not tried for errors that he demonstrably made. Those errors were that of a nation; formed of its clay and shaped by its humiliation.

In the end Mubarak was acquitted, and acquitted himself perhaps better than the mercurial and damaged country that sought his removal and now longs for his reign.

 

— Maged Atiya