Mubarak's Endgame

Mona Anis , Thursday 11 Aug 2011

The opening of Mubarak's trial last week, with the deposed president being wheeled on a hospital bed, looked much like a scene out of a play from the theatre of the absurd – Endgame by Samuel Beckett, perhaps

The theatricality of the whole affair sent many commentators wondering whether the scene had been deliberately staged to elicit sympathy, or if the health of the former president really prevented him from taking up a more erect position – in a wheelchair, say. Be that as it may, the way Mubarak looked on his first public appearance since he was ousted from power last February was anything but sympathetic.

It's been a week now since the trial began, and Egyptians are still talking about the way Mubarak moved his hands or fiddled with his nose and chin and what he did or did not do or say from his bed. One thing everybody was in agreement about was the fact that instead of looking seriously ill, he simply looked aloof and bored, something which provided psychologists and others with a golden opportunity to write for the newspapers and appear on talk shows in order to analyse the scene.

“This was a scripted scene from a psycho-drama meant to elicit maximum sympathy for Mubarak by demonstrating his weakness and submissiveness,” wrote psychiatrist Mohamed al-Mahdi in a supplement issued by the daily newspaper Al-Tahrir.

“However, Mubarak's military stubbornness did not carry the script through to its desired conclusion. His sharp, enquiring looks, his loud voice and the lack of any sense of anxiety all combined to give the opposite effect. Mubarak is known to avoid the display of any feelings, be they fear, anxiety, a sense of guilt or even regret. This is perhaps what has prevented him from falling into the kind of deep depression that might be expected from someone in his position,” al-Mahdi wrote.

Denial or no denial, the way Mubarak acted during the few hours he spent behind bars confounded the expectations of many Egyptians, especially elderly Egyptians like this writer. Much as he was disliked, many wished that he had agreed to leave the country in due time rather than being subjected to a public trial, the outcome of which is uncertain. Now that we have seen him looking as arrogant and as condescending as ever, we have lost all sympathy with the man. Instead, we have been reminded, once again, of all his shortcomings, which plunged the country into a terrible state of disrepair.

It was said that during his last years in power, Mubarak gave instructions to his aides not to disturb him with any bad news, something that his aides, including his son and heir apparent, welcomed since it gave them free rein to do as they pleased. It was shocking to hear the former secretary-general of the now disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP), Safwat al-Sherif, saying in his testimony before the prosecutor-general that Mubarak, the president of the NDP, had not been present at the top Party meeting held during the peak of the January uprising in order to discuss what could be done.

This unwillingness to deal with anything challenging, whether it is called denial or irresponsibility, is perhaps the main reason behind the former president's undignified performance in the courtroom last week. It was obvious that he had decided not to wear his hearing aid, instead depending on his sons to whisper what the judge wanted in his ear when the latter called his name.

Mubarak’s prostrate position on the bed, his two sons standing in front of him, must have afforded him a very limited view of what was taking place in the court. Thus, it would not be a great exaggeration to say that despite his physical presence in the court, he did not see or hear much of the unpleasant reality that was going on around him.

Many Egyptians suspect that this “opening scene” in Mubarak's trial might also be the last, giving way to a series of postponements on grounds of health until the former president discreetly dies in hospital rather than in prison. Some jurists have even argued that if Mubarak's physicians decree that he is not fit to stand trial in person, then the whole procedure will have to be postponed until he is.

Legal squabbling notwithstanding, everybody in the country is now waiting anxiously for mid-August, when the second session in the trial is scheduled to take place. To use a chess metaphor that is central to Beckett's play, Mubarak is in a similar position to a besieged king, while his men are captured pawns. A lot will depend on the skill of the opposing player if this game is to be turned into checkmate and not stalemate.

Meanwhile, and until further notice, Mubarak's position remains similar to that of the lead actor in Endgame, Hamm, who mumbles to himself: “And yet I hesitate, I hesitate to... to end. Yes, there it is, it's time it ended and yet I hesitate to — (He yawns) — to end.”

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