The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

A columnist's warning to Mubarak

Here are some pickings from a pretty gutsy column by Al Misry Al Yom columnist Magy Mahana. It ran on Sunday. Could Mahana be the next Abdel Halim Qandil?

Will the constitution with its flaws remain governing us for more years to come, with no changes allowed to approach it. And will any call to change it be described as futile as President Mubarak said. Or is changing the constitution possible as the policies secretariat said after President Mubarak’s statement? Or is it as Ibrahim Nafaa wrote in Al Ahram two days ago when he said “Changing the constitution is present, but it is not the end of the road.�

A nice summary of the mixed signals coming down from on high.

The difference between the word futile, which President Mubarak used, and the word present which Ibrhaim Nafaa used, is big. So is changing the constitution futile or present? It is known that the editor in chief of a Al Ahram does not interpret the text, and that the text here is the word of the President, which remains an eminent decree with respect to any editor in chief for a state-owned newspaper. Maybe Ibrahim Nafaa wanted to lessen the impact of the word futile on a shocked public opinion.

When Mahana talks about "interpret the text" (yigtahad al naS) he uses the verb for ijtihad, which generally refers to interpretation of the Koran. The not so subtle implication is that the word of Mubarak is akin to the word of God.

But here is where it gets good:

All those following the political scene in past weeks and months observed the tendency of the authorities and its apparatuses to escalate the situation, leaning towards using force to eliminate the differences with the opposition. This reminds some of September 5, 1981, which culminated with the president of the state himself becoming a victim after he lost the compass of leadership. The late President Anwar Al Asadat thought that the security emergency would be guaranteed by realizing the stability that he desired, and by ridding himself of the annoyances of the opposition, if only temporarily. But the cost was high and he lost his life on the anniversary of the great victory.

Increasing self confidence sometimes leads people to make fatal mistakes, and prevents them from seeing the true magnitude of things. So they behave as if they alone decide who comes and goes from power without considering other forces in society and abroad.

This is almost a threat. At the least it is a dark warning. Continue on this path Mr. President and suffer a similar fate to that of your predecessor. The September 5, 1981 event Mahana refers to is Sadat's sudden imprisonment of virtually every opposition figure in Egypt, be they left, right or center. He was assassinated a month later.

...If this state of confusion and fog in the street continues, like that which is present at the pinnacle of power and at the level of the political decision makers, how will we exit from this dilemma? By defining a clear means for the rotation of power and by changing the constitution, and it remains unknown if this is a possibility that is “futile� or “present?�