Republished Book review: Mubarak’s Last Hours

Mahamoud El-Wardani, Saturday 2 Jun 2012

By revealing the inner workings of the Mubarak regime during the 18-day revolt, Abdel-Kader Shohaib describes, from the position of an observer, how the ousted president's fate was sealed years before


Al-Saat Al-Akheera Fi Hokm Mubarak (The Last Hours in Mubarak’s Rule) by Abel-Kader Shohaib, Cairo: Akhbar Al-Youm – Culture Section, 2011. pp 126.

 Many of the recent books tackling the topic of the revolution tend to be simplistic, sensationalist texts, often published in a rush. But this particular book is nothing of the sort. The Last Hours in Mubarak’s Rule is written by Abdel-Khader Shohaib, a man who was closely involved with the ruling circles of the past regime. Despite leading the publishing organisation ‘Al-Hilal’ for a number of years, Shohaib is not regarded as a corrupt figure. Instead, the author is known for his moderate reporting in the articles he wrote for the weekly magazine Al-Mosawar. This moderation preserved his good reputation among the elite of the past regime, allowing him to retain a wide circle of influential and powerful contacts.

These contacts, some of whom were actively involved in making key decisions, proved useful for Shohaib when writing about the final moments of Mubarak’s regime. The author remarks that Mubarak’s failure to address the people until four days after the initial revolt was due to a general atmosphere of confusion and his personal incapacity to think clearly. Shohaib claims that despite the nation’s call for Mubarak’s resignation and an end to the regime, all he gave the people were “meagre promises of constitutional reform, with no specifics.”

From the outside, it seemed that the regime was powerful and unfaltering against its opposition. But Shohaib’s depiction of the inside shows the regime as distracted on its own project and reliant on its security apparatus for strength. The author notes that so consumed was the government with paving the way for Gamal Mubarak to continue his father’s rule, it failed to notice the anger growing among the Egyptian people. He considers also the ill-judged decision to overlook the lesson that could have been learnt from the Tunisian revolution.

The fast pace that distinguishes the nature of this book has left no space for the author to fabricate or divulge rumours revolving around the Mubarak family. Instead, the author remains concise throughout, documenting facts and writing only the necessary details that serve the story of these last hours.

In the first chapter, ‘Two Presidents of Egypt’, Shohaib confirms that the president effectively left power in 2006 and stopped keeping a close eye on internal affairs. For this reason, senior officials would take matters directly to Gamal, allowing the son to install his own men in key positions.

During the 18 days of revolt, the confusion surrounding Mubarak’s rule and his lack of decisive action had reached such a level that he ended up approving the statement to end his rule over the telephone, from Sharm El-Sheikh. In fact, of the statement provided by his vice president, Omar Suleiman, he asked for only one word to be changed. Mubarak also requested the announcement of the statement to be postponed until his sons, Gamal and Alaa, made their way to Sharm El-Sheikh, along with their mother who fainted unexpectedly in the airport. Yet the statement was announced an hour earlier than his request as protesters surrounded the presidential residence in Cairo, with more arriving each minute.

Despite a period of thirty years in rule, the author notes throughout the nine chapters of the book that Mubarak couldn’t really have done anything to prevent such a fate; he was tottering towards the edge of the abyss. As Shohaib describes, he had “surrendered himself completely to his son Gamal who was leading the last crisis of his rule… and that shock of his last days, despite his grandness, wasn’t quite enough to rid him of his son’s influence… or maybe not enough to think differently.”

It took Mubarak four days merely to realise that the protesters were actually marching against his own rule. When he finally announced that he would not run again for presidency, even though Gamal had already resigned from his roles in the National Democratic Party, he failed to mention anything regarding his son’s potential candidacy. Likewise, the president did not fully understand the stance of the armed forces. He, a product of the military and whose links to its leaders is quite evident, assumed that the forces would protect his regime. At a time when Mubarak believed the armed forces were on his side, they were actually supporting the cause of the protesters whom they would not attack.

Shohaib states that had the ousted president recognised these facts, he still would not have been able to save his regime. There were many valid, deeply entrenched reasons for the anger felt by the Egyptians after the farce of the last fraudulent and corrupt parliamentary elections. These had not even featured in Mubarak’s focus. This possibly explains why once the wheel of the revolution began rolling, it did not stop until it achieved its goal.

Throughout the book, the youth, the political powers and the masses are not mentioned, which is understandable given the purpose of this book. However, he depicts these last hours without mentioning the opposition camp.

Had the author described the actions and stories of the other actors and groups in more detail, Shohaib’s depiction of the last hours of Mubarak’s rule would have been more dynamic and encapsulating as a historical record.

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