President Hosni Mubarak's popularity reached its peak 18 months ago when his 12-year-old grandson Muhammad died suddenly of a blood hemorrhage. Millions throughout Egypt, especially among the lower sectors of Egyptian society sympathized with the pain of the 'Rais'.
They took to the streets, begging to be interviewed by any media outlet that would give them the opportunity to offer their condolences.
"We are one family and Mubarak is everyone's father," the Egyptians said between heartfelt sobs. "The Rais' tragedy is our tragedy." And yet, for over a week now, those same sobbing masses are thronging the city streets and squares, screaming "Go home Husseini," while tearing up his portraits in anger.
Meanwhile, the target of the protestors' anger is sitting in front of his television watching each and every one of his rebellious citizens. What is going through his head as he's holed up in the family villa in Cairo's Helipolis suburb or at the nearby Unity Palace?
Wherever he is, he will be surrounded by a close ring of security guards from the elite of Egypt's security forces, tense silence around him. The presidential guard is charged with watching over the top of Egypt's governmental pyramid, they won't be out in the streets trying to instill calm – they are responsible for the president alone.
Mubarak is never alone at his private villa in Helipolis – a modest residence when compared with the extravagant palaces enjoyed by other Arab rulers. His wife Suzanne, his firstborn son Alaa with his wife Heidi and young grandson Omar, his younger son Gamal with his wife Khadiga and baby Sara, are all there with him.
But that isn't where it ends; a battery of his senior advisors and aides has remained with him since last Tuesday, and has yet to abandon ship. Each advisor with his own advice, each aide with his own recommendations for how to proceed, but those who know Mubarak will swear: Even at the ripe old age of 82, with his ill-health creating worry lines among the international intelligence community – Mubarak makes the crucial decisions on his own. He listens, digests, gets updates, reads the influx of intelligence reports, and makes the final decision – alone.
Mubarak speaking to the nation (Photo: AP)
In his TV appearance Friday night, Mubarak spoke in an insulted tone of the great deal of time he spent watching TV over the last few days. Surfing channels and not missing any of the difficult scenes from the streets, where protestors stepped on pictures of him, ripped them up and set them alight, screaming in front of the cameras and saying everything they hadn't dared to say during his 30 years in power: Enough, go home.
One of the protestors waved a huge sign that read: 'President Mubarak is dead' in front of the Al Jazeera cameras. Just a week ago, any Egyptian citizen who would have waved a sign like that would have found himself in a police station in under a minute, or he would have "enjoyed" a violent visit from the Central Security followed by a visit to prison.
30 years of desperation
"Our youth," as the president calls them with fatherly affection, were never off the presidential agenda. Mubarak is well aware of the data that kept getting worse the longer his regime continued: More than half of Egypt's 82 million people population is in the 17 to 30 age group, 60% unemployed.
Some are university graduates that just couldn't find steady employment. Everyone dreams of getting married and they know they know they will most likely never get to fulfill their dream because they can't afford to buy an apartment or furniture.
Some are desperate and frustrated, seeking a solution in the mosques – falling directly into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The most extreme are willing to hitch their wagon to any anti-government activity for a fist full of cash.
Protestors in Cairo (Photo: AFP)
Those unlucky enough to get caught were on the receiving end of murderous beatings at the hands of Mubarak's forces – like the young man who exposed the upper half of his body and showed his scars – new and old, to the world.
"These," he points to stab wounds, a souvenir from a confrontation with undercover police officers in the street, "and these", he passes his fingers over two deep scars, a souvenir from his visit to the detention center a month ago.
One place that wasn't mentioned in the media craze surrounding the protest coverage was Mubarak's birthplace, the village of Moselha. It is the family stronghold where Mubarak grew up as the firstborn among three brothers in a family of lower class farmers, until he joined the military academy that led him to the air force.
The soft spot he has for those roots led him to close off the village from the media. When he was chosen as President Sadat's deputy in a surprising move in 1975, he drove he media away from his hometown.
When he was elected as Egypt's fourth president in December 1981, the cameras and reporters naturally headed for Moselha, to draw a picture of the new president's childhood. But Mubarak preceded their visit with an unequivocal warning: Leave the village, don't do profile stories about me and don't glorify me – I hate flattery. Judge me by what I do from this day forward for Egypt.
Ruling party's building on fire in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
His luck was in throughout his military career: Pilot, air force academy commander, air force commander and head of operations of the Egyptian army, who was asked to take off his uniform and take on the role of vice president.
Food for thought: Had Mubarak been forced to continue his birthplace's farming tradition, had his life taken a slightly different direction, he and his sons may well have found themselves in the streets, protesting and calling for the fall of the government, cursing and ripping the pictures of another president.
Mubarak is very stubborn, diligent and demanding. He has a direct and pointed approach and he hates wasting time on small talk. Those who know him well, swear that the moment the Rais gets angry, it's best not to be within reach.
With his thunderous voice, he punishes like a man brandishing a knife. One time, when he found out that one of his palace advisors was acting with excessive independence behind his back and was taking advantage of his special status as the Rais' confidante to line his pockets – Mubarak didn't hesitate before throwing him out and locking the palace gates, right in front of Shimon Peres and his entourage.
Mubarak was furious, but a moment after he dismissed the advisor, he calmed down and was back to his humorous self.
The biting remarks and witty rejoinders at the expense of world leaders and politicians help to ease the tension. Just recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu received a reminder of Mubarak's style in a Wikileak cable that exposed the the Rais' impressions of Netanyahu: "Netanyahu is a nice, charming man who always scatters promises that he has no intention of keeping."
Mubarak's close circle knows that he loathes change, and that he flies off the handle when he is surprised by something. The code of conduct around him is respect, and complete loyalty. If you aren't loyal to the end – you're out the door. If you ignore protocol you receive a warning and a reprimand. The second time, you're out.
If you are caught in the act of using your status to make your personal fortune, you will be thrown out in disgrace. This way, ministers aren't replaced; advisors stay on the job and everybody knows what their limits are.
Behind heavy makeup
Over the past six years, since the process of setting up Gamal Mubarak for the role of successor began, new blood has been pouring into the regime: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif is of Gamal's generation, the Industry and Trade Minister Mohamed Rasheed along with four other ministers.
On Friday night, when Mubarak brought about the resignation of the government, it was an opportunity for him to get rid of the 'dinosaurs' that had held on to their seats because of their blind loyalty. They included Culture Minister Farouk Hosni who has had his job for 24 years.
Mubarak is the one who implemented a curfew on three of Egypt's riot hubs in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. He was also the one who chose to hold back for so long before sending the army out onto the streets. In his television interview Friday night, his face was pale behind the heavy makeup, his voice quiet.
Not even once did he wave his arms as he usually does when speaking. He didn't warn, didn't threaten. You couldn't fail to comprehend the magnitude of the offense that he had to absorb from calls like "go home" and "Saudi Arabia is waiting for you".
From his extensive experience in power, as one of the oldest rulers in the world, Mubarak didn't expect the "virus of the Jasmine revolt" in Tunisia to sweep out of control in Egypt. Interior Minister Habib Al – adli is expected to pay for his proceedings during the first hours of the intifada.
Mubarak and Obama in better days (Photo: Reuters)
Mubarak, who would have preferred not to have made any TV appearances, delayed his speech on purpose – so that no one would mistakenly compare it with Ben-Ali's pleading on the eve of his departure.
Those who know Mubarak well know that his speech would have been thoroughly reviewed and examined before going on air. He spoke to a wide-ranging audience: The millions around the world following Egypt's intifada with wonder and concern, their leaders – his friends – who didn't bother to pick up the phone and call him but managed to criticize the Egyptian government.
Everyone criticized him, Merkel, Sarkozy. The leaders of the western world didn't hesitate to send the Egyptian president advice through the media, but none of them bothered to call him to express their sympathy and concern.
But Mubarak's speech was mainly directed at President Obama, who, at the height of Mubarak's fight for survival, demanded that Mubarak implement immediate reforms, remove the iron fist from the protestors' heads, reconnect the internet and cellular communications.
Egypt is the United States' ally, dependant on its three billion dollar fixed annual grant and additional bonuses if necessary. If Mubarak won't bend, Obama warned, we'll stop helping. Only after the speech, and after he committed himself to fulfilling the White House's long list of terms and conditions, after five days without contact did Obama pick up the phone and call Mubarak.
But it's already very clear to Mubarak: Just like the masses on Egypt's streets, the world is no longer on his side.
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