Abdel Latif El-Menawy عبد اللطيف المناوي
Gilgamesh Publishing (2012), 300 pages
Hodges Figgis, €2.50
Tahrir, The Last 18 Days of Mubarak: An Insider’s Account of the Uprising in Egypt is written by the former head of Egypt’s state television service. El-Menawy’s role gave him access to the highest levels of Mubarak’s regime so he can describe its collapse from a unique perspective. Tahrir drips with so much unintentional irony that by the time you finish reading it there will be a puddle of it on the floor. Laughably, on numerous occasions, El-Menawy compares Egyptian state television to the BBC. Most Egyptians saw Egyptian state television as the regime’s mouthpiece and not a source of impartial news. El-Menawy sees no conflict between his claims to impartiality and the fact that he was answerable to the Orwellian Ministry of Information (which was based in the same building as the television station).
El-Menwawy proudly boasts of numerous occasions when he offered advice to Mubarak’s regime. He is torn between a desire to be seen as an impartial newsman and a politically influential advisor to the government. Following the arrest of anti-Mubarak protesters El-Menawy urged the Minister of Information (Anas Al-Feky) that Mubarak should be seen to release the protesters to bolster the dictator’s position (p.95). The author doesn’t suggest that protestors should be released as they shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place but merely that their release can be used as a political move. Time and again El-Menawy struggles against his pride in being seen to influence the regime and his desire to be seen as impartial. His advice on possible elections is not that they should be free and fair but that they should be rigged in a believable way, “…”You’ve been using fraudulent elections for the past 30 years to gain the NDP [Mubarak’s National Democratic Party] a majority. Now is the time to change. Even if you must have false elections, at least have seats for 150 or so opposition MPs, to save face.”” (p.105) When El-Menawy tells his reporters who are reporting the protests to report them objectively he is met with disbelief, not exactly the reaction you would expect from reporters who were used to reporting the truth.
Tahrir’s strongest point is when El-Menawy is describing the growing rift between the armed forces and the NDP. The Egyptian armed forces were the not so hidden hand behind Egypt’s presidents and governments since Nasser’s Free Officers Revolution in 1952. It is clear that the army is not willing to be tied to a doomed regime and nor is the army willing to open fire on protesters. Mubarak’s narcissism made him believe that he was powerful enough to bend the army to his desires. The Mubarak family’s attempt to set up the succession of the disliked Gamal Mubabrak was an added source of tension (for some reason supposedly socialist republics seem to like the idea of hereditary succession; the al-Assad clan in Syria, the planned succession of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Iraq, and the third generation rule of Kim Jong-un in North Korea). Mubarak tried to hold onto power by replacing his government whilst remaining in office. When Field Marshal Tantawi refused Mubarak’s order to take a position in the new government. It was clear that the relationship between Mubabrak and the Armed Forces had deteriorated beyond repair.
El-Menawy is a consummate politician of the fence-sitting type. He believes he can remain friends with everybody by telling them what they want to hear. It is difficult to discern the author’s true beliefs apart from a wish to avoid Egypt falling into total chaos. El-Menawy’s problem with Mubarak is not that he was a dictator who enriched himself, his family, and his cronies, at the expense of the Egyptian people, while suppressing dissent and freedom of expression. The author’s issue with Mubarak is purely tactical; he doesn’t oppose the NDP in principle but their mishandling of the crisis. The NDP isn’t viewed as inherently corrupt (which it was) but Mubarak is seen as a liability for failing to adapt to the changed Arab Spring landscape.
Much has happened since the fall of Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in democratic elections heralded the possibility of real change in Egypt. Unfortunately Mohamed Morsi’s government failed to reach out all Egyptians (as was seen by their introduction of a new constitution) and their poor performance gave the armed forces the excuse they needed to snuff out the flame of democracy. Since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rise to power free protest has effectively been outlawed with over 2,500 protesters shot dead by security forces. Sham trials have also seen the jailing of protesters (including Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa who is in jail awaiting trial). However the question now posed is whether the rule of dictators such as el-Sisi is preferable to rule by the likes of ISIS. This is the wrong question to ask. The real question is whether decades of dictatorships in the Arab world (often backed with weapons sent by Western powers) have created the climate for groups like ISIS to flourish. A zero tolerance approach to dictatorships (arms embargoes and trade sanctions) might show that extremism of all kinds (and dictatorships are simply a more controlled form of violent extremism) will not be tolerated.
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