Book review: When did Mubarak start to crumble?

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Sunday 8 Apr 2012

Journalist Salah Montasser relays his personal testimony as a man, who although was close to the Mubarak family's circle of influence, he was not vested enough for them to be above his reproach

Salah Montasser

Al-Suu’d wal Sukuut … min Al-Manassa ela Al-Mohakama (The Rise and Fall … from the Throne to the Trial) by Salah Montasser, Cairo: Al-Masry Al-Youm Book, 2011. 279pp.

“When president Sadat called him in April 1975 and told him the decision about his choice as vice president, he came back concerned, and told his closest friends that he doesn’t understand politics and is afraid others will crush him. But nobody crushed him as he expected, he rose until he found himself sitting at the very top as the president of Egypt for an unprecedented length of time.” Muntasser started his book with these words, continuing from there to record Mubarak’s long journey since his appointment by Sadat and until he was jailed with his two sons, his minister of interior and his party leaders.

Salah Montasser, the author, is a journalist who was appointed to various high-level positions, including editor-in-chief for various newspapers and news organisations. This afforded him proximity to decision-makers, several meetings with Mubarak, including accompanying him on external missions. Mubarak was literally, keen to keep his preferred heads of newspapers close to presidential circles, who often stayed in his own guestroom.

As one of those preferred regime journalists, Montasser was well-acquainted with the labyrinths of the Mubarak regime, its symbols, politicians and hidden secrets. As the author indicates in the introduction, he considers the book a "testimony" on the Mubarak era, and in ten chapters tracks the day-by-day fall of the regime. The author ends the book with the day the regime fell, in cyclical narrative style, where the book ending links back to its starting point.

Although the author spent many years in service of the throne and was never known as an opposition to the regime, the reality of how Mubarak walked into his own demise seemed to have been too clear and irresistible for the author not to write about.

Mubarak was eventually so isolated by the small circle of wife, son, Zakaria Azmi, Safwat El-Sherif and Fathi Sorour. In fact, Mubarak was never seen except through these figures, which concretised the inheritance scenario that became the last nail on his coffin. It was very clear and widely known that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son, was being groomed to take over presidency.

Montasser’s testimony is, in fact very important, for he wasn’t directly involved through business or benefitting from the regime. Neither was he solely responsible for one magazine or newspaper, which offered him a degree of independence. The author can be seen as both part of the regime, close enough to know the ins and outs, yet at its margin.

The story begins on 14 October 1981, when Mubarak took over following Sadat’s assassination, and ends on 11 February 2011, when Omar Suleiman announced Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in power.

The author presents the Mubarak he first knew as a simple man, an officer with little knowledge of politics, without any special talents or hobbies of any sort; it’s likely that this was the reason for Sadat’s choice of this man as vice president. Montasser asserts that Mubarak was convinced of the slogans of honesty and clean hand at the beginning of his rule; “'the coffin has no pockets’ he was known to repeat.” He planned to retire and rest after two consecutive elections, yet the change started towards the end of the second presidential term, slowly gaining momentum towards consecutive disasters of oppression, torture, theft, poverty, etc.

Considering the 30 years that Egyptians have had to witness the workings of the Mubarak machine, it is rather awkward and hard to believe that the dictatorship really began on an honest note, with the release of political prisoners, "democracy" and "clean hand."

The author subtly seems to point the finger that those surrounding him, namely his wife and son, were the ones who led Mubarak down the path, with a disastrous ending.

While Montasser seems to lay the blame of Mubarak's demise mostly on an unscrupulous scheme allegedly concocted by his family, which undeniably was a big stumbling block for Egypt, it is also hard to believe that had Mubarak established a strong democracy theft, oppression and corruption would have met their end differently. Even without the inheritance project, the decline in economy, health and education was on an unstoppable train  bound to inevitably lead to the revolution against the regime.

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