How the People Lost their Fear of the Pharaoh, but is the Regime Getting Away With Murder?

February 12, 2011

Hosni Mubarak is gone, ousted by a revolution.  As someone who lived in Egypt and can testify to the brutality of the Mubarak regime, I celebrated with the millions of people who were glad to see the back of him.  These picture galleries from the New York Times and photojournalist Matthew Cassell show powerful images of protesters in their pain during the protests and also in their jubilance after Mubarak’s departure.

It wasn’t just Egyptians in Tahrir [Liberation] Square or Egyptian cities such as Alexandria who for the last 18 days supported the revolution in any way they could, people all over the world showed solidarity barely sleeping, smartphones and laptops plugged in at all hours, both virtually and literally, echoing the chants “IrHal [Leave]” or “Al Sha’b yureed isqat al nizaam [the people want the downfall of the regime]”.  People have resisted Mubarak for 30 years but this was always suppressed and repressed with arbitrary arrest, torture and killings, keeping the people under constant fear. This fear was then conquered in Tunisia and then in Egypt. The question on the lips of many is who will be next? Will it be Yemen or perhaps Algeria? 

It was the people who ousted this well rooted and arrogant dictator despite his support from the US, UK and European governments in a matter of days. Despite his tyranny of the Egyptian people and even in some instances against their own citizens, they continued to prop him up funnelling billions of dollars of support into his army and regime. Some like Tony Blair even took the liberty of free holidays at a bill footed by the Egyptian people. Then in Tunisia, the people showed they lost their fear of the tyrant. The Egyptians took inspiration from this tremendous success story and took to the streets. People from all cross-sections of Egyptian society came together and stood their ground. They withstood beatings, arrest, torture, being run over, killed and yet they still poured into the streets.  It took 18 days to oust the man who for 30 years ruled with an iron fist. But the people were calling for the ‘fall of the regime’ not just Mubarak. The regime is still in place.

Omar Suleiman,  the king of rendition was himself the one who announced Mubarak’s resignation less than 24 hours after Mubarak refused to leave. If Mubarak’s family fortunes are being questioned, his assets suddenly frozen and his oppression against the people well documented, then this should place Vice President Suleiman in the position of consiglieri of the Mubarak syndicate. Con·si·glie·ri (-r) An adviser especially to a leader of an organized crime syndicate. He negotiates on his behalf but somehow manages to keep his hands clean. Though the Vice President post may have ‘gone’ on a technicality,  Omar  Suleiman is still a member of the military security council. As in Somalia when the dictator Siad Barre was ousted and later died in exile, the people were left with mixed emotions. On the one hand there is elation and joy that the oppressive ruler is no more, but this is tempered by the worry of what is around the corner. It is also mixed with the regret that these rulers are getting away with murder, torture, and abuse of rights.

Who will be held to account for the deaths of the over 300 people who were killed in the last 18 days? What about the political prisoners? What about those living in abject poverty? Who will be held to account while Mubarak takes an extended holiday in Sharm el Sheikh and the rest of his regime remain in power?  Is the army really innocent of Mubarak’s crimes, even the most recent ones? Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi is the man in charge today but he has been the country’s defence Minister for 20 years. What is so fresh about Mubarak’s old clique? Nothing. But what is refreshing is to witness oppressed people rejecting oppression without guns and disunity and interestingly even without clear leadership.

The US tried to micromanage Mubarak’s exit strategy closely instructing the Army and trying to convince Egyptians of its own definition of an ‘orderly transition’.  The speed of events sweeping the Arab world will strike a new fear, but this time in the hearts and minds of the Western governments who have for too long relied on their brutal allies to serve their own interests.  

The protesters chanted “Silmiya, Silmiya” in their protests especially to calm angry protesters when they had managed to got hold of police officers and the violent pro-Mubarak ‘thugs’. There was an irony in Obama quoting this ‘moral force’ in his speech, if only US foreign policy in the Mid East and AfPak reflected that same sentiment. The role of both traditional and social media in this revolution deserves much credit. Especially praiseworthy is the role played by Aljazeera. Regardless of the Egyptian government lockdown on the Internet, phones and especially the Aljazeera network, they were so effective at getting the truth out, Suleiman in his menacing speech even ordered the people to Go home and stop watching the satellite TV. Don’t listen to them, listen to your conscience, he said. They did listen to their conscience, and for the first time, without fear of the Pharaohs.