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April 26, 2011

Mubarak’s Real Crime

Roy Meachum

A Cairo judge ordered the removal of Hosni Mubarak’s name and signs from all public places, including privately owned stores. Pharaoh Tutankhamun underwent the same treatment; he was murdered to boot, not unlike Anwar Sadat.


In ancient times, a new ruler routinely defaced his predecessor’s images. Incentive was added to the boy-pharaoh’s disappearance because he was the direct link to Akhenaton, who chased priests out of temple in the name of one-god. One-time air force General Mubarak was smarter.


Knowing the reverence America, Israel and the international community awarded to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Anwar Sadat, his successor punctiliously honored the man that he formed a team to assassinate. In all the charges currently rumored to be brought against Hosni Mubarak, I’ve never read mention of that capital offense. This unproven allegation is not original to me. The voices that persisted in attributing the killing to “top generals” were silenced, sometimes thrown in jail. Sadat’s widow, Jehan, accepted a heavily endowed consultancy in College Park, at the University of Maryland.


Being in Egypt during the Camp David conferences, I witnessed the electrifying changes Cairo underwent, almost immediately. The prospect for Middle Eastern peace transformed the entire Western world into giddiness. Left out were the Muslim nations that wanted no peace with Israel. The Arab League came up with billions in bribes, fostered by Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: its delegates were left stranded at the airport, in Heliopolis.


When President Sadat was cut down at the parade that marked the anniversary of his greatest triumph; on October 6, 1973, the trans-Suez Canal attack restored Egyptians’ dignity. A Cairo friend lamented he couldn’t travel abroad after 1967’s Six-Day War in which Israel smashed all Arab forces and conquered the West Bank and Golan Heights. Although the 1973 war ended with the enemy deep in Egypt, Muslim nations basked in the glow that Sadat’s army had come close to defeating their enemy.


Eight years later Cairo was celebrating. Three gunmen emerged from the parade; wielding AK47s, they assassinated the president – a remarkable feat. Their automatic weapons – not notorious for accuracy since – singled out the president standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the much broader Hosni Mubarak and even broader and conspicuously taller, the armed forces chief of staff. Muhammad Abu Ghazahla I knew when he was military attaché in Washington’s embassy. My friend was openly scornful of the charismatic president that he dubbed “the actor.” Rising to head the State Information Service, former air force officer Safwat Sharif made clear that he joined Abu Ghazahla as Mubarak men.


The month before the assassination, Nobel Laureate Sadat went on a terrible tear, throwing into prison once powerful journalist (and Gamal Abdul Nasser’s official biographer) Muhammad Heikal. Coptic Pope Shenudah was confined to a monastery deep in the desert – supposedly to placate the president’s Muslim critics. Others were arrested, especially leaders of political parties. And several high-ranking ministers were “sent home,” toppling their big chairs. Left untouched was the vice president’s coterie, but the warning resounded.


In that government, every official, including the second most powerful man, served at the pleasure of Anwar Sadat; all that was necessary for firing was falling from the president’s favor. Over the previous two years, I had watched as Mubarak’s favorites were named to more powerful posts. For example, the Washington military attaché became chief of staff when the man who held that job conveniently died in a helicopter crash, in the country’s western Sudan – too remote for a thorough investigation.


Conveniently the Sadat assassination was pinned to Islamists, with great help from Jerusalem and Washington. All nations contributed in pointing fingers away from the establishment in Cairo. With “the actor” out of the picture, Arab nations came around. Saudi Arabia and the oil-wealthy Gulf emirates heavily invested in the “new” Cairo that I saw beginning. Hosni Mubarak proved an example of the model Middle Easterner toady; afraid to buck anyone, he gave lip surface to everyone, especially to the United States. Republicans and Democrats kept his coffers overflowing to the tune of several billions every year; not surpassing donations to Israel, but not far distant.


For its own purposes, America prolonged the misery and poverty that Egyptians dealt with until they rose up this winter to throw out the murdering president and aides, like Safwat Sharif, who became secretary general of the ruling political party after I left.


Having assassinated Anwar Sadat to keep Egypt under their domination, there remains real doubt the “top generals” will allow genuine democracy to grow beside the Nile.


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