Winston Churchill once famously remarked that “dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount.” The logic being, of course, that if they were to dismount, the tiger would then eat them and pad off into the night while stifling a burp. So its no wonder dictators tend to hold onto the saddle for dear life.
Seeing a steedless Hosni Mubarak wheeled into court on a stretcher which was then placed in a cage comes as quite a shock. Far from the strongman who has ridden the proverbial tiger for decades on end, the Mubarak we saw could not have given an anaemic kitten a run for its money. Unsurprisingly, the mood in Egypt seems to be a mixture of joy and disbelief.
Indeed, the ripples from Mubarak’s humiliation extend far beyond Egypt. Dictators like Bashar al-Assad and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, who have much more blood on their hands, must be certainly watching — although it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this display would cause them to bend or simply make them hold onto power with an even tighter grip. And I’m sure the House of Saud would have felt a jitter at seeing their long-time ally brought so low. In the globally telecast match of Mubarak vs the People, it’s clearly the people who have won. Or have they?
Mubarak may be in the dock, but the regime he built is still very much in place and in power. Take the supreme council of the armed forces of Egypt, the guys who are currently calling the shots. These are the same generals who enjoyed their share of the booty during the Mubarak years. They represent a whole cadre that was nurtured under his rule and, lest we forget, did not abandon their leader until it seemed that anarchy and civil war was imminent. Even then, they would undoubtedly have let him slip away into obscurity had the people not kept up the pressure. Currently, they’re the ones ruling the roost, despite the rhetoric about the people’s victory.
And what of the policemen who actually committed the crimes that Mubarak stands accused of sanctioning? Well, they’re all still gainfully employed and, despite the protests of those who suffered under their batons, bullets and cattle prods, no purge has taken place to cleanse the ranks.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course, the judge presiding over the case has a history of handling cases that made the Mubarak regime uncomfortable even when the pharaoh still ruled. But he is an exception in a system that is still very much operating as it used to.
Part of this is the inherent problem with revolutions. Unless the revolution is complete, as with the Chinese, Cuban or Bolshevik revolutions, the remnants of the ancient regime stay in power even if the titular head (and face) of that regime has been removed. Of course, the top to bottom purge that those types of revolutions entail carries its own dangers, leaving the country itself vulnerable in some cases. Many more times, the revolutionaries prove themselves more vicious and depraved than the regimes they overthrew. Certainly, this is not something anyone without a vested interest in chaos wanted to see in Egypt.
So while we may rejoice at seeing the mighty brought low (schadenfreude isn’t just for the Germans you know), and may join the Egyptians in their moment of catharsis, we should also realise that the revolution is far from over.
The establishment is banking on the staying power of the people to exhaust itself, hoping that the ceremonial humbling of Mubarak will satiate the masses so that they can resume business as usual. There may be cause to celebrate in the future, but for now, it seems the tiger has thrown the pharaoh to the wolves and continues to roam free. The only one I see in a cage is Mubarak.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2011.