Robert Fisk: Mubarak will die in jail, but that's no thanks to us

As the former Egyptian dictator is sentenced, our writer remembers the West's determination to overlook his regime's violence

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
Share

The dictator was sentenced to death yesterday. Twenty-five years is death, isn't it, if you're 84 years old? Hosni Mubarak will die in jail. And Habib al-Adli, his interior minister, 74 years old, maybe he will be killed in jail if he doesn't live out his life sentence. These were the thoughts of two old Egyptian friends of mine yesterday. And Mubarak was sentenced for the dead of the 2011 revolution. That's 850 dead – 34 people for each year of his term. Quite a thought.

Of course, we were not asking about the death sentences at the military courts in the 1980s and 1990s – and we can't, can we, when the military is still in power in Egypt. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the field marshal who runs the country, never suggested these courts – and their death sentences – were wrong. Mubarak was fighting "terror", wasn't he? On our behalf, I believe. For he was a "moderate", a friend of the West, and maybe that's why Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Alaa, got off. Will they leave the country? Will they quit Egypt? No doubt.

So that's the story. Let's not mention Bashar al-Assad here. The Egyptian court was meant to be a lesson for him. Kofi Annan was down in Qatar, talking about the Syrian government's sins yesterday. But, then, there are some problems, aren't there? Didn't Mubarak receive a few "renditioned" prisoners from George W Bush; tortured them, too, at Washington's behest? And didn't Damascus also torture a few "renditioned" prisoners – the name Arar comes to mind, a Canadian citizen, sent off from JFK for a touch of torture in the Syrian capital? Yes, our "moderate" Arabs were always ready to help us, weren't they?

So let's recall how US ambassadors in Cairo pleaded with Mubarak, asking him to tell his cops to stop torturing their prisoners. One particular US ambassador told the president that his prisoners were being gang-raped in the Tora jails outside Cairo, given women's names, Muslim "extremists", of course, but wasn't this taking punishment a bit far? Mubarak didn't get judged for that yesterday. Only for deaths in the revolution.

Mubarak's snipers gunned down the young revolutionaries in Tahrir Square at night. That's probably why Judge Ahmed Refaat referred to "30 years of darkness" when he sentenced Mubarak, praising those he called "the sons of the nation who rose up peacefully for freedom and justice". But then there were many who died in Mubarak's police stations and in Islamist uprisings – we could mention the Muslims who died in Sadat's prisons, too – for whose demise the former Egyptian president was not sentenced yesterday. And, in a sense, Mubarak was also being punished for Sadat. For Nasser's police regime, too.

We Brits always loved Egypt. We thieved our way round the land of the pharaohs. We marched south from Cairo to save Gordon of Khartoum. We put our cloak around King Farouk. We encouraged Egyptian democracy in the 1920s (until the democrats wanted to get rid of King Farouk). We admired Egypt's role in the Second World War (helpfully forgetting that Sadat was on Rommel's side) and we originally liked Nasser. And then along came Sadat, who threw out the Russians, made peace with Israel – he did want a Palestinian state, he told the Knesset, though we have forgotten that now – and was murdered by his own army (his murderers "posed" as soldiers, al-Jazeera wrongly told us yesterday).

And out of the dead and wounded of this incredible military parade, there emerged one Hosni Mubarak, dour, dull, boring, his hatred of "Islamism" all too obvious, a man who – in the immortal words of that finest of journalists, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal – "entered a room which was a sea of quietness". And quietness was what he most wanted. Last night, Egyptian state television claimed Mubarak had suffered a heart attack on the helicopter taking him from the court; as a colleague said, a life sentence would make anyone ill.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and unnumbered diplomats talked about extrajudicial killings and police murders – in the south of Egypt, especially around Asyut – and about corruption in the halls of power. There were those in Cairo who said that corruption was not the problem; it was the small scale of the corruption, its adherence to the president, its very exclusivity, that created anger. And, oh, how every Egyptian newspaper – in a land that was once famous for its free press – would put Mubarak on page one, every day, every week, every month, every year. For Egyptian journalists, their newspapers were Saddamite in their loyalty. One scribe, angered at my questioning of presidential election results, called me "a crow pecking at the corpse of Egypt".

This was a president, let us remember, who happily allowed his journalists to doctor a White House photograph, placing Mubarak in front of King Abdullah of Jordan; indeed, in pace with the youthful Obama, a man whose barber lovingly coloured his hair (his cabinet colleagues availed of the same barber's devices); and whose speeches were printed ad infinitum in the Cairo press. Thank God, he did not (like Saddam and Gaddafi) write novels.

But let us remember, this happy Jubilee Day, how we loved Mubarak, how we courted him, praised him, listened to his advice, his thoughts on Islamism, his security boss's fears of Islamist violence (a man called Omar Suleiman, I seem to recall, who wanted to be president until his name was chucked out by the parliament), and how we thought him a "peacemaker". And now Egyptians wait to see whether Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's old prime minister, will be the next president, or the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi. After today, my Egyptian friends tell me, Shafiq is out. Well, we shall see. And if Mursi wins, won't he be just as nice to the army as Shafiq?

Too cynical? Revolutions don't always end happily. Think 1789. Think 1917. Think Egypt 1952. I wrote 17 months ago that Egypt's revolution against Mubarak was the happiest story I have ever written. It's still true. Arabs, in their millions, overthrew a dictator. But I fear that, if the dictator has gone, the dictatorship has survived. The army runs Egypt today. And we, in the West, like armies. Washington likes armies.

No one will suggest that Mubarak's future is too harsh. Egyptian television announced yesterday that he would be moved to the hospital of the Tora prison, the jail in which his torturers once did their duties and where several of his former servants are now serving time. He will be visited by his sons. But Gamal and Alaa are still in detention; awaiting charges of stock market manipulation.

This will matter little to the real revolutionaries of Tahrir Square. They wanted a clean country, a clean society, not a run-off between a Muslim Brother and an ex-Mubarak satrap. Tunisia seemed like a good precedent, a corrupt old dictator fleeing to Saudi Arabia. Another corrupt old dictator will die, eventually, in Cairo, I suppose. But Libya wasn't exactly a peaceful revolution. Nor Yemen. Nor Syria...

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Factory Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer ba...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
August 1923: Immigrants in a dining hall on Ellis Island, New York.  

When will the Church speak up for the dispossessed, and those that our political system leaves behind?

Stefano Hatfield
Mexico president Enrique Peña Nieto  

The UK is rolling out the red carpet for President Peña Nieto, but his security forces have blood on their hands

Kate Allen
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003