The Tragedy of Mubarak

By Dickey, Christopher | Newsweek, February 21, 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Tragedy of Mubarak


Dickey, Christopher, Newsweek


Byline: Christopher Dickey

The Egyptian president had ruled for decades. Then his grandson died, and the unraveling began.

The night before he finally stepped down as Egypt's president, the protesters in Tahrir Square heard Hosni Mubarak deliver his final address as their head of state. "A speech from a father to his sons and daughters," he called it, and like many of his orations in the past, it was filled with lies, although he may have believed some of these himself. He would stay as president until September, he promised, because the country needed him for a transition to democracy. This, after three decades of autocracy. The hundreds of thousands gathered in the square wanted to hear him say only one word: "Goodbye." Amid their screams of fury, one woman could be heard shouting into a phone, "People are sick of the soap opera!"

The protesters had reason to be weary of the president's final, delusional public performance. But there was another long drama coming to an end that night, mostly out of public view--a personal story that helps to explain the president whose stubborn incomprehension of his "sons and daughters" dragged Egypt so close to ruin. Former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Daniel Kurtzer has called it the "tragedy" of the Mubaraks. As Kurtzer says of the Egyptian president, "He really did feel he was the only one holding the dike"--as if beyond Mubarak lay the deluge.

Mubarak's fall is not a story like the one that unfolded in Tunisia, of a dictator and his kin trying to take their country for all it was worth. Although there have been widely reported but poorly substantiated allegations of a $40 billion to $70 billion fortune amassed by the Mubarak family, few diplomats in Egypt find those tales even remotely credible. "Compared to other kleptocracies, I don't think the Mubaraks rank all that high," says one Western envoy in Cairo, asking not to be named on a subject that remains highly sensitive. "There has been corruption, [but] as far as I know it's never been personally attached to the president and Mrs. Mubarak. They don't live an elaborate lifestyle."

On the contrary, vanity more than venality was the problem at the top in Egypt. Despite the uprising of millions of people in Egypt's streets, despite their ringing condemnations of secret-police tactics and torture, the Mubarak family remained convinced that everything the president had done was for the country's own good. "We're gone. We're leaving," the deeply depressed first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, told one of her confidantes as the crisis worsened last week. "We've done our best."

The man at the heart of the story, the patriarch, had never imagined he would hold the presidency--and when that came true, he couldn't imagine it ending. As commander of the Egyptian Air Force, he had been a hero of the 1973 war against Israel, so when President Anwar Sadat summoned him to the palace in 1975, he thought maybe he was going to be rewarded with a diplomatic post, but no more than that. (Friends say Suzanne told him to try to get a nice one in Europe.) Instead, Sadat named him vice president. And on Oct. 6, 1981, as Sadat and Mubarak sat side by side watching a military parade, radical Islamists opened fire, killing Sadat and making Mubarak the most powerful man in the land. Egypt was a different country in those days, one where the government's lies to the people went unquestioned and the police routinely intimidated the public into submission. The only television was state television, and the primary contact with the outside world was via sketchy phone lines. Some international calls had to be booked days in advance. As Mubarak's reaction to the protests made clear, he failed to understand how the country had changed in 30 years.

His partner in the family tragedy was Suzanne Mubarak, the daughter of a Welsh nurse and an Egyptian doctor, who married Hosni when he was a young Air Force flight instructor and she was only 17.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Tragedy of Mubarak
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?