Mubarak’s reign, the revolt against it and all the tragedies that followed, remain as a stark reminder of what could have been, what is and what the future might hold.
FEBRUARY 26, almost nine years to the day after his ouster in a popular revolt, Egypt’s long serving dictator is buried in Cairo. The man who dominated Egyptian politics for 30 years is buried with full military honour, with Egypt’s current dictator leading the funeral. Three days of national mourning are declared. The death of Mubarak brought into sharp view the still polarised state of Egyptian politics, as many fondly remember his reign as a period of stability, while others remember the victims of his repression, corruption, mismanagement and his plans to pass the presidency to his son, Gamal. His reign, the revolt against it and all the tragedies that followed, remain as a stark reminder of what could have been, what is and what the future might hold.
JUNE 6, 2010, a summer day in the city of Alexandria. Khaled Saeed was sitting in an internet café, in the middle-class area of Sidi Gabir. Two members of the security forces enter the café and attempt to arrest the twenty something young man. He is then dragged outside of the café to the stair well of an adjacent building, where he is beaten to death. The beating involved banging his head against iron bars, the concrete stairs and the floor of the stairwell.
The attack is unprovoked, and the beating continued after Khaled died. The beating fractured his skull and dislocated his jaw. The police claimed that he died from asphyxiation, as he attempted to swallow a packet of Hashish to avoid detection. His family leaks a picture of his mutilated face and it appears on social media. The outrage is immediate and a new Facebook page is created, called ‘We are all Khaled Saeed’, which attracts hundreds of thousands of followers. In seven months, this page would be instrumental in spreading the call for protest that would topple Mubarak. Khaled was the latest victim of a police brutality which was spiralling out of control over the previous few years.
FEBRUARY 20, 2002, the start of the holiday season in Egypt. An overcrowded train, carrying about 3,000 passengers is travelling from Cairo to Luxor. The passengers on the train are heading home for the holidays. Most of the passengers have rural migrant backgrounds, and as such, are one of the poorest and most marginalised segments of society. A gas cooking stove in one of the carriages catches fire, causing the carriage to burst into flames. The train continues to travel for four miles before the driver realises the catastrophe. The flames spread through the train, leading to the death of 360 passengers, mostly burned alive. Graphic pictures of the charred corpses appear in the media. It is the worst train disaster in Egyptian history. Many among the public see it as a symptom of the deep-seated corruption in the political system. The public implicitly blames Mubarak.
FEBRUARY 4, 2006, a ferry is carrying 1,400 passengers across the Red Sea, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. The bulk of the passengers are Egyptian workers returning home to see family. The boat is full of women and children. In the middle of the voyage the ferry catches fire and the outdated fire control system is unable to control the fire. Rescue efforts are too late to save almost 1000 passengers who drowned.
The scenes are tragic as entire families are lost at sea. The poor condition of the boat and the belated rescue efforts are blamed for the disaster. The owner of the shipping company, a rich business man, Mamdouh Ismail, with close connections to the political elites, fled the country. It was believed that he was allowed to flee because of his political connections. The disaster is blamed on Mubarak and his inner circle, since Ismail was closely connected to them. Mubarak is later caught joking about the disaster in a staged ‘casual’ conversation with an Egyptian, warning the man not to get on the ‘ferries that sink’. The joke remained in public memory for years to come.
THE inaugural session of the 2010 parliament, the last of the Mubarak era. These parliamentary elections were fraught with fraud, more than the expected usual, which completely shut out the largest opposition group in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, from parliament. In response, the opposition attempted to create a parallel parliament. Mubarak responded with a quip saying, mockingly, ‘let them have fun’. In less than two months, millions would flood the streets and his 30-year rule would come to an unexpected end. The quip caused public outrage.
JANUARY 28, 2011, which would later be known as the ‘Friday of anger’. The country is on edge as the call for nationwide protests are expected to be met in large numbers. On January 25, a protest against police brutality had attracted much larger numbers than expected, signalling the public’s willingness to engage in popular political action against the regime on a wide scale.
The masses poured into the streets in numbers that are beyond the ability of the security forces to handle. Protestors attacked the symbols of state power and violence, namely, police stations. Ninety-nine police stations are burned down across the country and the security forces kill almost 900 protestors. It was the first of many massacres to come. On February 11, Mubarak steps down. Mubarak is charged with the murder of the protestors, to be later acquitted. He dies in a hospital, on February 25, 2020, at the age of ninety-one.
The reaction of the state and the military establishment to the revolt is ferocious. The security forces commit a number of massacres in the following years to suppress dissent. The first notable massacre was in Maspero, when military armoured vehicles ran over unarmed Coptic protestors and killed 24, culminating in the massacres in Rab’a and Nahad, which killed at least 817 protestors.
The Mubarak regime had morphed into a more brutal version of itself, shedding its civilian veneer. In a scene reminiscent of Mubarak, Egypt’s new military dictator, field marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sissi, stated during a televised speech: ‘Don’t listen to anybody’s words but mine. I am speaking in all seriousness; don’t listen to anybody’s words but mine’.
The decades of silence were broken on the January 28, 2011, and since then, the state’s primary goal has been to mute the opposition. Mubarak might have died, but we still live in his shadow!
OpenDemocracy.net, February 28. Maged Mandour is a political analyst and the columnist of ‘Chronicles of the Arab Revolt’ on openDemocracy. He is also a writer for Sada, the online journal for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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