Mubarak's canny strategy that kept him in power for the time being

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By Dalia Ziada
Sunday, February 6, 2011

It is Friday night on the 11th day of the biggest upheaval Egypt has ever witnessed in its modern history. It was labeled the "Day of Departure," meaning that this is the day when the large crowds of millions of Egyptians should have forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Millions of people showed up not only in Cairo but all over Egypt and called for Mubarak to give up his position immediately. Thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters showed up, too, and called for Mubarak to stay forever.

The good news is that, thanks to military intervention, no clashes happened between the pro- and anti-Mubarak groups similar to the horrible violence we witnessed on the days before. The bad news is that Mubarak is still in his office, the protesters are still in Tahrir Square, military troops are still spread all over the country, and the usual life activities are on pause.

That makes me ask: Are we losing the momentum? Where should it all lead to at the end? It cannot go forever like this. There must be a clear strategy for what should happen next. But before I discuss the strategy the protesters should adopt, we should first understand the strategy of the regime.

Mubarak is using the same old techniques that our ancestors (the pharaohs) and all other modern dictators have used. Despite huge internal and international pressure, he created an efficient strategy to get out of the crisis without losing his power.

First, Mubarak built two strong pillars to help him stand up again: the new vice president and the new prime minister. Both have long, clean and successful histories as patriotic, non-corrupt leaders. The prime minister is charismatic and open-minded, while the vice president is a tough intelligence man and a veteran expert of strategic planning related to security issues and crisis management.

Above all, the two are old friends of Mubarak unlikely to let him down under any condition. By hiring them, Mubarak hit three birds with only one stone. He secured himself and strengthened his position again. He answered a long-awaited demand of the people for him to name a vice president. And he hired a new government in place of the corrupt and failed former government. The new government seems very promising under a leader who has a clear vision and mission and who did not hesitate to share it with the public.

Second, Mubarak offered some scapegoats to the angry people and so avoids being the direct target of their anger. He forced the notorious businessman and former leading member of his ruling National Democratic Party to resign. A few days later, the public prosecutor announced that this businessman along with some former allegedly corrupt ministers and the most merciless former minister of interior are prevented from traveling. This means they are under arrest and will be investigated soon. By doing so, Mubarak showed not only his people but the whole world that he is an honest man who fights corruption and removes corrupt elements in his regime and government even if they are his strongest allies. He not only cleared his own record but also avoided being held personally accountable for all the corruption committed in his name.

Third, Mubarak targeted people's hearts and made them sympathize with him. He played not only on the fact that the political mind of the people is in their hearts, not minds, but also the fact that Egyptians are very emotional and the majority of the people see the president of the state as a god or at least a father who should be respected and obeyed no matter how he acts. On Tuesday night, Mubarak gave a short and sweet speech declaring that he loves Egypt and cares for its safety. He stated that because he is a responsible man he will not run for a new presidential term and reminded people with his glorious moments as a noble military warrior and civil hero. He also mentioned that he ordered the amendment of the constitution, especially the most controversial articles related to presidency. It was a touching speech that made a lot of people cry and forgive him unconditionally for every thing.

I was watching the speech with my own family and some neighbors, I saw tears in their eyes while Mubarak was speaking. Those who was insisting that Mubarak should leave turned to be with him. Moments after the speech ended, television stations received phone calls from people crying, showing much love and affection toward Mubarak, and apologizing for him for what the protesters do. My mother, who was very proud of what I am doing, looked me upside down and said that I am heartless and ungrateful.

I do not know how to interpret that reaction: Is that schizophrenia? It does not make sense that all those people are schizophrenics. Are they stuck with Stockholm syndrome? I do not know. At the end, whatever the motive is, Mubarak captured the hearts of a lot of people by this speech.

Also, his speech responded to three of the four demands of the protesters and made the call for his immediate resignation meaningless. He is leaving anyway after a very few months, and his existence in power during this period became a necessity to make the sought-after constitutional amendments happen.

The day after his emotional speech, large groups of Mubarak supporters poured into streets and clashed with anti-Mubarak protesters. The clashes were violent as people used Molotov cocktails and gunfire against each other. Thus, it became hard to claim that Mubarak or the police forces are behind the violence against protesters. It is now people fighting people, while the regime is completely innocent.

Fourth, Mubarak employed media in his favor by making them portray activists as traitors and agents for foreign countries, which targets Egypt's wealth and stability. They claimed that suspected foreigners are distributing fliers and communication machines along with food and water to activists. Although this propaganda is not true, many people believed it and started to feel threatened by foreign enemies. It is a well-known technique to distract people's minds away from domestic problems. At the same time, media worked on improving the image of Mubarak and glorifying his deeds. They emphasized his image as a father to all Egyptians. He also spoke to foreign media asserting the same image and sending the same emotional message not only to his people but to the world.

There is no doubt that President Mubarak is a very smart man and he knows very well how to get out of such critical situations. He is now putting protesters into some sort of a dilemma. On the one hand, he called upon the opposition for negotiations and replied to three of the four demands: changing the government, dissolving the parliament, having him out of office and changing the constitution. On the other hand, protesters have no particular leader and no clear strategy for what should happen next; the whole movement was kind of spontaneous and led by no one. That was a factor of strength at the beginning as it started as an upheaval by the people and for the people, away from any political agenda of any particular political party or group. But now, it has become a problem that threatens the success achieved so far by protesters. It has become a necessity for protesters to come together and put a clear plan for what they should do next and find the right leader from among them.

Dalia Ziada is an Egyptian rights activist and blogger.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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