Mubarak's cult of personality endures
By Simon Allison
CAIRO - Another sun rises above Tahrir Square. The protesters are still here,
in their thousands. They will not leave, they say, until Mubarak does. It is
fitting that this revolution should end with the exit of the man who caused it;
after all, a revolution needs a climax, and what better climax than the
president formally relinquishing all power? But removing a president does not a
revolution make. Removing a regime, on the other hand - now that's a
It can be easy to confuse the two, especially if for decades they have been
inextricably linked. Hosni Mubarak was never actively narcissistic in the vein
of a Joseph Stalin or a Saddam Hussein, in the promotion of his public image.
He eschewed such classic
tactics as putting his profile on bank notes, which are decorated instead with
mosques and pharaohs (though some might argue that the pharaoh was just a
metaphor for the president). And while his portrait was a feature of all
government offices, its absence in public spaces and homes wasn't taken as a
threat to the regime.
But nonetheless, as the head of a dictatorial police state for nearly three
decades, a cult of personality grew up around him, and became a central plank
of his exercise of power. Effusive compliments of Mubarak's leadership, wisdom
and strength were a regular feature of the evening news on state television.
Anything that went right in Egypt was ultimately down to him and him alone; on
the few occasions when something went wrong, it was somebody else's fault.
Mubarak became the state; the state was Mubarak.
This was nonsense. Mubarak was the ultimate authority, but he certainly could
not make every decision himself. And nor did he. Other figures operated and
maneuvered behind the scenes, wielding their influence in the shadows, an
influence all the more powerful for it being out of the limelight. There was
Omar Suleiman - the spy chief, the enforcer, the man who would unpack the box
of dirty tricks for which the regime was so notorious - and who is now the vice
But he, and others, operated in the shadows, and are now protected by those
shadows. While the other edifices of Mubarak's rule crumble around him, his
cult of personality endures. This is why, for the demonstrators, there can be
no other conceivable solution to the current impasse than Mubarak's exit,
dignified or otherwise.
But as the protesters wait to cut off the head of the snake, the body is making
its moves, specifically, Suleiman. Quietly, and without fanfare, he has put
himself in prime position to manage the transition process, even getting the
nod of approval from the United States.
Suleiman oversaw and maintained the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel,
and enjoys good relations with Washington and Tel Aviv. The US and Israel both
could relax with him in control. He is also conducting negotiations with
various opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood (although the
Brotherhood insists it was not negotiating, merely listening).
It seems there are two possible resolutions to the situation. The first, the
more likely, is that Mubarak stays as president, stripped of real power, and a
hardcore of demonstrators spends the next seven months in Tahrir Square until
elections that Mubarak has said he will not contest; the presidential powers
would in the meantime be transferred to Suleiman, never mind that he is just as
complicit in Mubarak's regime as Mubarak himself.
The second option is that Suleiman promises to give the opposition Mubarak's
resignation, on condition that he, Suleiman, be allowed to run the transitional
period. Both solutions involve actual power in the hands of Suleiman.
If the revolution is to be effective - and if the opposition is to politically
destroy Mubarak for good - it will understand that he is not and never was the
Egyptian state in its entirety. Getting rid of him is only one part of the
equation. The other is finishing off the regime - a task that would be made
exponentially more difficult if the transition process were managed by
Suleiman, one of its architects.
Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is one of the few to have pointed out
the absurdity of Suleiman's role. "The process [of negotiation about
transition] is managed by the outgoing regime without involvement of the new
opposition, if you like, or the rest of the people ... It is all managed by
Vice President Omar Suleiman, it is all managed by the military."
If Mubarak does go in the next few days, the people of Egypt should
congratulate themselves on an important milestone, but also realize that their
job is not finished. As long as Mubarak's right-hand man continues to wield
huge power, the revolution is not over, even if it is reaching its natural
Simon Allison is a Master's graduate of the London School of African and
Oriental Studies; he has lived and traveled extensively in the Middle East. His
blog can be foundhere.