Mubarak in a Cage
The sight of Mubarak in a cage was historical. Arabs saw Saddam behind bars, but they were not impressed. Contrary to the wishful thinking of American neo-conservatives and liberals, the entire Iraqi political process under occupation never impressed Arabs. It was all part of a US-orchestrated charade. The spectacle of humiliating Arab rulers is not new. Arab leaders have been mistreated, shot at, and executed. Decades ago, Colonel Amin Hafez of Syria had to call on his family to help him in a shoot-out with armed men outside his home, while Abdul-Karim Qasim’s rule in Iraq ended in a small room.
What is significant today about the sight of Mubarak is that he finally got to see the extent to which most Egyptians hated him. Arab potentates are always shielded by their vast entourage and court jesters from the extent of public antipathy to their persons. In Syria, demonstrators have held signs informing Bashar “We don’t like you.” This must not be easy for Arab tyrants to stomach. They — especially the younger generation of the successors — have been raised on the myth of public love for them. Mubarak had to believe that he was loved so he could take the Egyptian people for granted, as well as offend and violate public wishes in their name. Saudi Arabia and the GCC tyrants interceded to prevent the appearance of Mubarak behind bars. They knew that it would constitute an important precedent. Arab potentates are very obsessive about their magisterial and imperial postures and images. They are not prone to show weaknesses in public. They are keen on projecting a semi-divine image of themselves. This explains why Mubarak wanted to prosecute anyone who hinted that he may have suffered from ill health. Yet, as soon as he was deposed, ill health became his excuse and his shield.
The charade of the court, arranged by the Military Council to thwart justice rather than achieve it, should not continue. The Council wanted to give something superficial to the public, and the image was good enough. There was no reason to allow Mubarak, with his hair still dyed and coiffed, to appear on a stretcher. This was intended to garner sympathy for him in order to end the court proceedings. When that did not happen, TV transmission stopped. A real trial for Mubarak would, by definition, bring into focus the disgraceful roles of all the members of the Military Council who were handpicked by Mubarak. The Mubarak trial may not produce the desired results: events in Egypt are moving fast and the Egyptian Military Council’s precarious hold on power may not last. The revolutionary momentum may reach the doorsteps of the top generals.
But the psychological symbolism of Mubarak in a cage should not be underestimated: if there is one phrase that captures the spirit of the so-called “Arab Spring” (the name is a misnomer because rivers of blood are flowing in the course of this “spring”; as Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab once observed in a poem, “Agents of Qasim are firing, Oh, for the Spring”), it is the “loss of fear.” Arab potentates are not awesome or intimidating. Even amid the pomp of royalty in the Gulf, rulers are forced to appease their population and deflect popular resentment by buying themselves out of the crisis, but they still have to do something. Mubarak will die in police custody while his two sons lose their privileges. All three will die with the full knowledge that they were all hated during a protracted era of oppression.
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