What keeps Mubarak on his throne?

Mohammed Hussainy summarises the personalities and forces that prevent Mubarak from standing down.
Mohammed Hussainy
7 February 2011

It might strike many as odd, the way Hosni Mubarak refuses to step down and continues to cling tight to power as if he were nailed to his chair, particularly after his purported admission that he would like to resign. Following two weeks of mass popular revolt, the Egyptian people have not been able to remove such nails despite the great resilience people have shown against all obstacles, including the violence inflicted upon them by the police forces, the assaults carried out by the regimes’ thugs and the numerous political bluffs put forward every now and then in various forms and colours. 

There are three “nails” holding the Egyptian President in place for the time being. The first is Mubarak’s personal motives; as a man who has enjoyed power for decades, Mubarak finds it difficult to easily give away all privileges that have become an integral part of his daily life. With time, Mubarak has come to believe that he is a symbol of the entire nation of Egypt, and that he is the only one capable of leading the country. In other words, he believes he is the “inspired leader” without whose presence Egypt cannot stand on its own, even for a single day! 

The second nail is Mubarak’s circle of friends, individuals who have managed to acquire many assets by virtue of being close to him. Such privileges have become fundamental to their continued prosperity and they are fighting hard to keep their man in power so that they can have ample time to make arrangements to retain some portion of their acquired assets – we are talking of huge fortunes and networks of power. Since the popular uprising caught them by surprise, these regime insiders need time to re-arrange and re-shuffle their cards so as to minimize their losses or indeed play the situation to their advantage. 

The third nail is the sum of interventions, admissible or otherwise, intended to keep Mubarak in office. Presidents and monarchs of various Arab states see in the fall of Mubarak’s regime a catalyst of their own demise. Perhaps the huge number of phone calls Mubarak has received from Arab leaders urging him to stand firm is evidence that these rulers believe Mubarak is the last dike holding back the flood of popular power. Should Mubarak succumb, the Arab leaders realise that such a flood will not stop at Egypt’s borders but will inundate many an Arab state whose rulers have resorted to all forms and means of governance except for democratic ones.  

Of this category, Israel is perhaps the most eager to keep Mubarak in place, for it fears the advent of true democracy might bring someone who will challenge the inherently unfair Egyptian-Israeli relationship. Israel might also end up having to deal with someone determined to review the peace treaty between the two countries. The Israelis are fearful of a worst case scenario in which the new rulers of Egypt, the largest country in the region, might opt for terminating the treaty for good. Hence, Israel is willing to overlook the democratic principles it calls for and set aside the fact that it always brags about it being the only democratic state in the region; all of that Israel would trade for having a Mubarak-caliber strategic partner, even if it has to be at the expense of the will of the people and their right to self-determination.

Nor can one disregard the Iranian role; despite Khamenei’s call for Mubarak’s removal and statements of solidarity with the popular revolt in Egypt, descriptions of this revolt as being Islamic have set alarm bells ringing among the countries of the region. The latter are wary of the possibility of seeing Iranian tentacles extend to Egypt as they have in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Such a development would shift the power balance significantly. Iran and its allies might then have an upper hand – a nightmare indeed for the principal powers in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Israel. 

All the above have made the ousting of Mubarak a complicated and extremely difficult prospect. The domestic, regional and international formulas underpinning his regime are intricate and complex – a natural outcome given the historic and strategic significance of Egypt in the volatile region of the middle east. Yet, history has witnessed the repeated triumph of popular will and the fall of the bastions of dictatorship – regardless of how powerful they might be - when subject to the hammer of mass protest.

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