Source: The Times Middle East News
Final Days of Egypt's Last 'Pharaoh'
Michael Binyon and James Hider
Last updated January 18 2012 12:01AM
A year ago, he was the “Pharaoh” of Egypt, absolute ruler of 80 million souls. Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak was wheeled into a Cairo courthouse in the last leg of a trial in which he is fighting for his life, a life that was turned upside down by the Arab Spring.
Based on insider accounts, The Times can reveal exclusively the chaotic final hours of the deposed President’s 30-year rule, and the successive months of decline as he languished in a tiny hospital room.
At his side throughout the tumultuous events was his wife, Suzanne, the daughter of a Welsh nurse and an Egyptian surgeon who, at the crucial moment of her husband’s resignation, kept Egypt and the rest of the world waiting as she sobbed uncontrollably on the floor of the presidential villa, refusing to leave.
Mrs Mubarak had joined her two sons, Gamal and Alaa, in the helicopter to take them to internal exile in Sharm el-Sheikh on the day that her husband was forced out of office. But as the blades were whirring, she leapt out and ran back to the villa.
Impatient officials suspected that she may have forgotten her jewellery or a favourite dress. In fact, she had returned home and broken down. The guards who finally breached protocol and burst into the villa found her prostrate on the floor and inconsolable with grief, surrounded by the trinkets and records of her lifetime.
The final hours of the regime are dramatically outlined in a new book by the former head of Egyptian television, who played a key role in persuading Mr Mubarak to quit and in drafting his farewell speech.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy says that the guards had to pick up the President’s wife and carry her round the house, her tears staining their shoulders as she collected the few possessions she could not bear to part with.
“In her grief she kept repeating the same line, over and over, ‘... They had a reason ...’ When she had composed herself enough, she turned to the guards and asked in a panic, ‘Do you think they can get in here? Please ... don’t let them come here! Please, don’t let them destroy it, please. Look, you can stay here, stay in the villa ... please, protect it!’”
All this time Mr el-Menawy was waiting in his office for the order to broadcast the tape that would announce the President’s resignation. “Though no one knew it at the time, the whole country was waiting for Suzanne Mubarak as she wept in her empty palace,” he says.
The final broadcast was chaotic. Mr Mubarak had decided that the brief statement should be read out by Omar Suleiman, the Vice-President, and this was agreed with Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the military council that was to take over.
There was no time to take Mr Suleiman to a TV studio. Instead a camera was set up in the corridor outside his office for him to read out the 37-second statement.
Mr el-Menawy reveals the mystery of the unknown figure standing awkwardly behind Mr Suleiman, thought by many at the time to be a shadowy powerbroker or intelligence officer. In fact, he was Mr Suleiman’s chief assistant, who had blundered into the shot by mistake. “It was unfortunate for the man — he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
As the crisis deepened over the 18 days after the revolt erupted on January 25, 2011, Mr Mubarak’s entourage was paralysed with indecision, Mr el-Menawy says.
As director of state television, he was constantly buffeted with conflicting commands from the Minister of Information, the military authorities, Mr Mubarak’s aides and especially his ambitious son Gamal. All wanted television to put out statements that bore no reality to the Government’s crumbling authority and the situation in Tahrir Square.
After two weeks of growing demonstrations, Mr el-Menawy realised that Mr Mubarak’s position was untenable. But no one dared to tell him. So Mr el-Menawy persuaded the top intelligence officers to get Anas el-Feky, the powerful Minister of Information whom Mr Mubarak treated as his third son, to make the ruling family aware of what was going on.
The intelligence officers talked for 90 minutes. Mr el-Menawy recalls: “One of them tried to encourage me, telling me that in the Koran Egypt is mentioned five times, whereas Mecca was mentioned just twice. He said that if God mentioned Egypt five times in the Koran, then he would protect it.
“This man, right at the highest level of the Egyptian Intelligence establishment, was telling me that they were waiting for a miracle. It certainly wasn’t the time for miracles any more.”
Mr el-Menawy went to Mr el-Feky’s office, told him that Mr Mubarak should go on air that day and began writing the speech the President should deliver.
Mr el-Feky took notes and then phoned Gamal, explaining the urgency of the situation. Mr el-Menawy insisted that the speech should be finished by 4pm.
The army then demanded that state television should broadcast “Statement No 1” — a clear indication that it was now putting pressure on the President. All of Egypt, including the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, were expecting a speech of resignation.
Thousands were outside the television building, chanting and protesting. Most of the staff had fled. It was after 10pm but there was still no sign of Mr Mubarak at the studio in the presidential palace. “To my complete consternation, Gamal seemed to be just dithering around in front of the camera. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then they just disappeared.
“Mubarak finally strolled into the picture after 20 minutes, flanked by his two sons, his spokesman and Anas. He started reading, made mistakes, stopped and started again. They stopped him to adjust his tie and he then read the rest of the speech, shook hands and left.
“When it was over, I had a grim feeling in the pit of my stomach. This was the end. The speech was just awful — the worst speech he’d ever made in his life. It was arrogant. It was senseless. It was a disaster.”
Mr el-Menawy adds: “Immediately upon broadcast, protesters across the country began to vent their rage, screaming into the night sky.”
Gamal, it seemed, had edited the speech that his father was meant to read, omitting all talk of resignation. It was the final gamble in the “inheritance project” pushed by Gamal and his mother, so that he could succeed his father as President.
The next day the protests grew. Crowds were trying to break into the television station. Rumours circulated that Mr Mubarak was not in Cairo but in Sharm el-Sheikh or Saudi Arabia. Just before midday, an army spokesman called Mr el-Menawy to say that television should spread the word that Mr Mubarak was leaving.
Soon after that, Mr Mubarak took a helicopter to Sharm el-Sheikh. Before he left, Mr el-Menawy says, Mr Suleiman asked the President whether he needed to go anywhere abroad. “No,” he replied.
“I’ve done nothing wrong and I want to live in this country and I will live in this country for the rest of my life.”
He arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, called Marshal Tantawi and told him that he was now in charge. But no word of this went out. Eventually the army spokesman arrived at the studio with a tape of the official resignation announcement — and not a word of it could be broadcast until Mrs Mubarak and her sons had left Cairo.
Mr el-Menawy played the tape to his staff. “Emotions were running high. Some of the staff in the studio were crying as they worked their machines. They had been overwhelmed with stress and suddenly, in 37 seconds, the entire weight had been lifted from their shoulders.”
The Mubarak era was over.
Sources close to the former President told The Times that when he arrived in the well-guarded hospital at Sharm el-Sheikh, the ousted dictator suffered from severe depression and spent much of his time simply watching taped football matches and avoiding news. He was extremely frail, and at one point suffered a minor heart attack.
Already recovering from an operation on a malignant tumour in his lower intestine, the 82-year-old grew ever weaker, barely eating or taking water, and refusing to leave his room, which had one tiny window.
At one point, his wife and one of his daughters-in-law found him apparently comatose. There were tears in his eyes. A doctor spoke to him for 30 minutes, recalling his moments of glory in his military past.
Eventually, the patient responded, stressing that he was the first Egyptian President ever to agree to leave office. “They told me to step down and I stepped down,” he said.
When he was flown back to Cairo for his court appearance in August he was wheeled in on a trolley, unable even to sit up for any length of time. He was not faking his condition, officials said. After several months in bed his muscles had wasted away.
Last week the prosecution called for the death sentence as punishment for allegedly ordering his troops to open fire on protesters.
End of an era
Oct 14, 1981 Hosni Mubarak is named Egyptian leader, eight days after the assassination of Anwar Sadat
June 26, 1995 He survives an assassination attempt, the first of six, when gunmen open fire on his motorcade at a summit in Ethiopia
Jan 25, 2011 Egyptians gather in cities across the nation to demand that he step down as President
Jan 28 The Government orders the Egyptian Army to quell protests but the military refuses to use violence
Feb 11 Mr Mubarak resigns and the Army takes control
April 12 Mr Mubarak appears before investigators on corruption charges. The following day he is detained for questioning over embezzled funds
May 24 He is ordered to stand trial on charges of killing protesters
Aug 3 The trial begins
Aug 15 The second hearing is held. Mr Mubarak arrives at a Cairo court in a hospital bed
Dec 28 The trial resumes after a long break due to procedural difficulties
Source: Times research #Egypt #tahrir #Menawy #masprio #jan25