Mubarak's one-fingered salute

Egypt's old military dictator is trapped in a parallel universe where he thinks he can still reward and punish his own people as if they still fear him, tell them to go home as if they will obey him, and then sic the military on them to break them. 

Egypt’s President and his former spy-chief deputy told the demonstrators to “go home”.

They have told the two old war horses to “go to hell”.

Egypt’s revolution continues. For yet another day hopes have been dashed, and frustration will drive even more onto the country’s streets.

You’ve got to wonder why on earth Mubarak and then Sulieman made speeches to the nation when they had nothing new to say.

Even more confusing was the build up to the speeches. To say there was overwhelming anticipation that Mubarak was about to announce his immediate departure would be an understatement. There was so much expectation that this would be the moment.

That expectation was fueled by military leaders, senior leaders from within Mubarak’s NDP party, parliamentary officials, the American CIA and media – Arab and ‘foreign’.

As it turns out Mubarak was playing the crowd by sending his military out to tell them the soldiers are with the people, so trust them, trust the President and just go back to work.

You could have heard a pin drop in Tahrir Square when Mubarak began. However a couple of minutes into the speech when the belligerent old dictator began to rant on about the process of constitutional change the silence was broken.

“Leave, leave, leave,” was the chant.

The speech was nothing new – except of course an announcement that he has handed over most power (note ‘most’) to his hand-picked Sulieman. Of course he’s the guy who so many in Egypt associate with overseeing torture and is considered a close friend of Israel. In short he represents the same regime. He is not the person the demonstrators want to trust their futures to and they have no good reason to. Sulieman is more of the same and the same is ugly. It is political repression, social degradation, humiliation and brutality.

Egyptians can be forgiven for drawing a comparison with Russiawith Mubarak being their Putin calling the shots from behind the hand-picked Medvedev.

Mubarak’s speech was condescending and patronizing – as were his previous two during this revolution. Yes, it’s a revolution and is only going to grow…or as El-Baradai predicts, “erupt”.

Like the old military general he is, Mubarak really seems to see himself as the ‘father’ of the nation, and as such is free to bestow rewards on those who behave and punish those who go against his paternal wishes. Punish of course is unlike anything most ordinary people associate with the word.

Also the Mubarak strategy seems to be tied to his military mindset in that he may suffer the loss of a few battles, but he absolutely refuses to lose the war.

The battles he’s surrendered are that he will not stand for re-election in September, his son Gamal will not stand in September, some powers have been handed over to Sulieman, there will be free and fair elections.

He’s an old-style Arab autocrat and as such considers he has the authority to tell his subjects what to do.

Mubarak however is at the tipping point of a generational change and it will not be in his favour.

This crowd he was addressing is not some meek mild and uneducated mass.

Sure there are people who are unemployed – but they are just as likely to have one or two university degrees as not. They may be young, but they stand in defiance with seasoned doctors, engineers, university professors, lawyers and others who are considered within Egypt’s elite.

Theirs is a revolution because it has long surpassed an angry demonstration and its momentum is such that the labour movements have now become involved. Suez Canal workers are on strike, hospital workers and transportation workers are in the streets. More are threatening to join.  Egypt is losing about $300 million a day and that will grow. People are finding it difficult to find bread. Revolutions succeed on the hungry bellies of the oppressed and the disintegration of economies.

Mubarak had the audacity to insult his own people with his condescending speech. Imagine with his history he promised them that those who had inflicted injury on those demonstrating for their rights would be brought to justice. Excuse me. Will they be in the same cells as the hundreds who were hauled off the streets by Mubarak’s private thugs over the past couple of weeks? Will their bodies be shoved in refrigerators for their families to find at some time in the future?

Has this man no dignity?

Stupid question really.

Mubarak’s speech was so lacking in dignity that it was in itself an astonishing performance. He just doesn’t get it. He is wearing the ear-muffs of dictators past while living in a parallel universe. He is 82, and he has known the sort of power for decades that has allowed him to amass a fortune – reputed to be in the many tens of billions – while his own people can’t even get basic jobs, no matter how hard they try. Mubarak is not going to change, even if he could.

Now the attention has to turn to the military.

Egypt’s military seems to be the bastion of reason as it accepts flowers from the demonstrators, allows them to climb over tanks and appears to protect them from the Secret Police thugs.

It is important to remember that while the military holds a special place in Egyptian lore from Nasser’s Free Officers coup in 1952, the elite have been handpicked by Mubarak and old warlords like he are not in the habit of choosing people who have the brains or connections to overthrow them. No, they prefer lackies who respond to lavish privileges and bank accounts, and accordingly the Egyptian military hierarchy is an integral part of the country’s economy.  They run factories and hotel chains and are deeply mired in the nation’s real estate and other areas where money can be made.

Of course there is also the U.S. billions to distribute to the generals and to buy serious new toys for those further down the camouflage line.

Add to that the military is actually a very conservative body as militaries tend to be. That means they will actually fear change and uncertainty including ‘free and fair’ elections.

However it is a fair bet that sooner rather than later the military is going to have to play its hand.

Unfortunately it is of course required to be loyal to its Commander-In-Chief AND the people….only the people hate the C-I-C, and the C-I-C has no intention of giving further ground. If he’s going down then the whole nation is coming down with him.

A military coup is obviously on the cards and is not a new concept for Egypt.

That said it would be best avoided, and instead have the military hold power temporarily while the Mubarak regime is purged and everything is put in place for free and fair elections. That has risks – most obviously can the military be trusted to do what is right and then relinquish power? Egyptians are weary of promises.

Would the prospect of some involvement by the Muslim Brotherhood spook them into hunkering down in the Presidential Palace?

And what game are Mubarak’s puppet masters – Washington and Tel Aviv – playing? They seem so suddenly media shy? Silence is finally golden perhaps.

So, the revolution continues and following Mubarak and Sulieman’s speeches, the most dangerous hurdle could yet be before the protesters. They have to keep their cool and maintain their moral high ground. They have been tested before and many did not survive the beatings and shootings. The latest paternal rantings from on high contain more than a hint that punishment is on its way…again. 

From outside Egypt, it looks as if Mubarak has delivered a new reason to fight on.