The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Trilogy - Episode 1

Last night President Mubarak sat down with the plump `Amad al-Din Adib for the first installment of three nights of interviews. Al-Ahram boasted yesterday that Adib would ask Mubarak 199 questions over the three days.

Each night it is 2-hours and as these were produced earlier, there can be no wardrobe malfunctions. The interviews are broadcasting on Channel 1, Egyptian Satellite channel, and Nile TV (with a rough simultaneous translation). It is also being broadcast on Arabic Satellite stations (or so it was reported).

Al-Ahram also said yesterday that the third day would have a surprise announcement. According to paper, the president will respond to a crucial question about whether he will present himself or not for another presidential term.

Last night's episode began in office at the presidential palace in Heliopolis. After chatting for a bit, Mubarak and Adib left by Mercedes to the Air Force Central Command where the remainder of this installment took place.

Now, it is difficult to take seriously. As I, my wife, and some journalist friends watched, there were many a jokes about Adib's contrasting appearance compared to the president's, the sycophancy, and spectacle of it all. For example, we were wondering if Adib would ask the president to slip out the back in order to grab a sandwich.

The first installment dealt almost exclusively with the 1967 defeat, the October 1973 war, and Mubarak's appointment to VP under Sadat. Naturally, the role that Mubarak played in both 1967 and 1973 seemed a bit far fetched but whatever. That is for the historians to figure out.

Some of the impressions noticed are that there were times that parallel dialogues take place. As Mubarak discussed the sheer frustration of the 1967 defeat, Adib asked if he ever thought of throwing in the towel. Mubarak, of course, rejected the notion. He explained how there are moments in life that are tough and that require perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds. His direct quote was something to the effect that "in tough moments, we must come together as one". As he responded, I felt like he was addressing Egyptians today in relation to the ongoing reform projects and rising costs of living rather than staying within the bounds of the question. This parallel narrative seemed like it was an important moment in the midst of the spectacle.

Other trends that were evident:

There was a lot of focus on Mubarak's military background. It was like they were intentionally justifying the necessity of a military general to be the next suited (rather than uniformed) president. There was a lot of emphasis placed on the discipline, hard work, courage, commitment and honor involved in the military ranks. Adib was keen to stress that the president was all of these things plus a real human being - firm but compassionate.

Also, there was much emphasis placed on Mubarak's rise in the air force and society. He argued intently that he was a self-made man and that there was absolutely no wasta or connections that helped him get to where he is today. I am not in a position to refute such claims. But the interesting bit is the emphasis on this point. To this end there was some separation between him and the two previous presidents (I am not forgetting M. Nagiub but he was not really in the frame of reference). In this sense, there was an aura that the president seem to indicate that he owed nobody anything.

Between the emphasis on the military, Mubarak's characteristics, and the coded conversations that could have been perceived as speaking directly to the people through his experiences, it was an interesting night. Interesting as opposed to entertaining.

In the midst of all this, other questions remain. Is the opposition movements and pressure getting to him? Is that why he is doing these controlled interviews? Is this a campaign event?
I don't know if there are definitive answers to these questions. They may not even be important.

Rumors circulated in the lead-up to the interview (and actually probably are still circulating but I have been behind the computer all day so I am not hearing them). There was talk that the surprise is that Mubarak will appoint Omar Sulayman as the VP. The other rumor is that he stands down for this election and the party nominates a new candidate (in this line of thinking, the rumor implies his son Gamal would get the nomination). The third option is that nothing will change and Mubarak will announce his intention to run for a fifth-term.

I don't know what is going to happen....but as the interview got deeper and deeper last night, I got the impression that the only person who has the qualities, experience, and qualifications to be the next Egyptian president is the person who currently occupies its chair.

There are two more nights, stay tuned...