FUNERAL PROVES THE GENERALS STILL RUN EGYPT
THE 21-gun salute fired in eastern Cairo during the burial of late president Hosni Mubarak was an elegant end to the life of a man preoccupied with building his image.
In my book, The Arab Split,I emphasised how Mubarak was keen to build his reputation as a gentleman president, beloved by his people and respected by leaders the world over.
Mubarak became the longestserving president of Egypt, staying almost 30 years in power. He survived by building on his talents for self-promotion, while controlling or stifling political opposition.
My research on Mubarak in 2015 found that his long stay in power was founded upon building a personality cult.
Professor of politics at the University of East Anglia, John Street, has argued that politicians and celebrities share a common identity. To succeed in the new globalised celebrity culture, politicians have to rely on self-promotion, advertising, targeting and branding.
According to Street, modern politics has become more marketing than science.
Mubarak managed to do that very well. He hired a top journalist to write his speeches and he was very keen to have extensive coverage of all his activities. Propaganda was one of his main tools in building his image, and the brainwashing of the masses reverberates back to French psychologist Gustave le Bon’s notion of the psychology of the masses.
When he came into office Mubarak promised to defend democracy in Egypt. Nonetheless, the political system he adopted was authoritarian. Universal rights such as freedom of speech and assembly were trampled upon.
His international image was particularly important. Mubarak became a leading voice in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, promoting aggressively the idea of a two-state solution.
In 1989, his image was given a major boost when he raised the Egyptian flag on Taba, the resort that Israel kept under its authority.
Another moment of international limelight for Mubarak was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
Egyptians fought alongside the Americans to facilitate the Kuwait “liberation”. On the back of this Mubarak managed to return the Arab League headquarters to Cairo after 10 years of boycott.
Back at home Mubarak did less well. His relationship with the opposition grew steadily worse, reaching an all-time low in 2010, when he decided to exclude all opposition from the parliament.
Last but not least, Mubarak was grooming his son Gamal to succeed him as a president. These efforts were silently opposed by the army but they had the chance to have their say during the January 2011 uprising, when they refused to support Mubarak.
When it came to the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak allowed the organisation a level of freedom. He allowed it to grow and control student unions and most of the professional organisations – such as those for doctors, engineers and teachers. But his regime made sure it was always under control.
The fact that Mubarak’s military funeral with full honours was attended by the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el Sisi will keep future Egyptian generations in utter confusion.
Was this the president who drove millions of Egyptians on to the streets in 2011?
What were the feelings of thousands of Egyptian families who lost a loved one, or have a family member living with an injury or who were tortured during that “revolution”?
Many have not yet heard an answer about who killed or injured their loved ones.
The highly formal military funeral held one solid truth. The military is still in charge in Egypt, as it has been for the past 70 years.