Book Review: A close up on the place, or rather the palace, and the people

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 10 Feb 2021

Unlike some other memoires that have come out during the past few years by some of Mubarak’s men, El-Fiqi’s book is outright revealing, interesting, and free of any superimposed extracts from speeches and documents

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It would be hard to place the name of Moustafa El-Fiqi in a singular context. Currently the chair of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, El-Fiqi is career diplomat with a passion for culture. He has been on many diplomatic and political posts, including his years as Hosni Mubarak’s diplomatic advisor.

He has also written several books — the latest being his memoires: “The tale: the journey of time and place” (Al-Rwaiya: Rehlat Al-Zaman wi Al-Makan).

The book came out of Al-Dar Al-Masriah Al-Lebenaniah just a few weeks ago and it has been, for good reason, topping its non-fiction sales.

One reason why this book is probably selling very well relates to El-Fiqi’s typical clever storytelling skills. He is always able to keep an audience eager to hear more. He has an understanding of what makes the memoires, of a former diplomat who is at present an intellectual/executive, best set to attract the attention of the reader throughout a thick 500-page volume.

Certainly, with his mixed diplomatic-academic background, El-Fiqi knows how to make his argument engaging.

His main story is that he lived in a country where it was possible for a man from the heart of the middle class in rural Egypt to secure himself a high-ranking executive job, acquire a Ph.D. that grants him an adequate fallback position when the strains with the head of the executive are overstretched, and to finally have the skills required to be able to regain yet another prominent executive job and to recalibrate his direct relationship with the head of the executive.

So, there is his childhood and early youth in the Delta city of Damanhour, his years in Cairo where he joined Cairo University’s faculty of political science and economics, his years in London — both as a junior diplomat and a Ph.D. student — his years in Vienna as the ambassador of Egypt, and much more of a life that has been very rewarding.

However, in almost every single page of the book, there is at least one interesting — often enough indirect — political statement that is so cleverly put.

There is his take on Gamal Abdel-Nasser, where the charismatic leader is portrayed with some new shades. There is his take on Anwar Sadat, with some previously untold anecdotes — despite the volumes that have been written about Egypt’s former president, who led the country into the 1973 Crossing.

Most of all, El-Fiqi is offering some new features to the private and the public personas of Hosni Mubarak, some new insight into his take on governance, some interesting accounts on the status of Suzanne Mubarak, and the role and aspirations of Gamal Mubarak.

 He also — for the first time ever — sheds some light on the rarely discussed role of Gamal’s elder and more low-profile brother, Alaa Mubarak, who was part of the crisis management in the 18 days of the January Revolution and who had all but anticipated a tough political and public reaction to the fiasco of the 2010 legislative elections that were administered jointly by Gamal’s closest political associate steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz and by Mubarak’s iron-fisted minister of interior, Habib El-Adly.

El-Fiqi’s memoires share direct conversations he had with the top men in the Mubarak regime, such as Hussein Tantawi — the minister of defence at the time — and Omar Suliman — the chief of the General Intelligence Service at the time — on Gamal Mubarak’s political grooming and the positions of the state establishment, including the armed forces, on the succession scenario.

What El-Fiqi does with his memoires, however, is a lot more thorough. He so wittingly reflects on the political regime in Egypt as has been established since 1952 and its social and economic choices and the impact thereof.

Unlike some other memoires that have come out during the past few years by some of Mubarak’s men, El-Fiqi’s book is outright revealing, interesting, and free of any superimposed extracts from speeches and documents. The fact that it came out on the 10th anniversary of the January Revolution has probably attributed to its success that remains mostly the work of a clever storyteller with some very interesting insight.

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