A telltale sign of a dictator’s waning influence is increasing paranoia. And this is exactly what Egypt’s U.S.-backed dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, is suffering from.
At a time when criticism over Egypt’s abetting of the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is intensifying, and its traditional role as leader of the Arab world is being eclipsed, Mubarak’s standing and legitimacy in the eyes of his people has plummeted. His paranoia, conversely, has skyrocketed.
This was on display when the state-controlled Egyptian daily Al-Ahram published an article last Saturday accusing the following nations, people and organizations of attempting to destabilize the country, or in the words of the paper, to “ … bring Egypt to the brink of chaos and facilitate a coup”: Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef, and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network. Lebanon also joined the ever-expanding list a few days later.
Relations had already deteriorated earlier in the month when Egyptian security officials made public that they had uncovered a Hezbollah-sponsored “espionage ring” and “terrorist cell” operating in the Sinai. Twenty-five “agents” were arrested, and the hunt continues for an equal number more. Nasrallah did admit that one of those captured was a Hezbollah member, tasked with helping to smuggle arms into Gaza. He denied however, the constantly shifting Egyptians claims that the group’s real objective was to instigate the Sinai bedouin population against the government, attack tourist sites in the Sinai, topple the regime, or to launch attacks on the Suez Canal, Egypt or Israel.
“If helping the Palestinians is a crime, I officially admit to my crime … and if it is an accusation, we are proud of it,” Nasrallah replied.
According to Al-Ahram, the alleged “conspiracy” to depose Mubarak was first hatched when Hamas violated the ceasefire agreement with Israel – quite a remarkable plot indeed, considering the purported breach by Hamas never occurred. This is a myth routinely peddled by the Israeli government to justify their Gaza onslaught, and now one apparently being parroted by Egypt.
The reality is that Hamas abided by the ceasefire and only responded with rocket fire when Israel violated it, as they did on Nov. 5 when seven Palestinians were killed in an unprovoked airstrike. This is notwithstanding the inhumane 18-month siege to which Gazans were subjected; denying them food, clean water, medicine and basic humanitarian supplies. This embargo was not just a flagrant breach of international law but a prima facie act of war (and one in which Egypt, by keeping the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed, was complicit).
The juvenile tone the Egyptian government-controlled press has adopted in discussing the current tension mirrors that of the leadership well. The Al-Ahram article called Qatar – Egypt’s new rival in the Arab world – a “tiny state.” According to the Los Angeles Times, one Egyptian columnist referred to that country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani as “the chubby prince” while the state-owned Al-Gomhuria called Nasrallah a “monkey sheikh.”
Such childish language speaks poorly of the state of journalism and reporting by these mouthpieces (as one might expect). More important though is how Mubarak’s rousing conspiracy theories and deepening paranoia have caused Egypt to align itself closer to Israel than at any time past, yet further alienating him from ordinary Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world.
Although busy identifying enemies all around, Mubarak surely has not forgotten his greatest one: the Egyptian people. By attempting to distract them by laying blame on phantom menaces, he believes the credibility he lost during the Gaza war will somehow be restored.
But it will not. Nor will the people believe in the validity of his enemies list or the claims of his hired journalists.
Because they know that when Mubarak’s regime falls, it will not be at the hands of outside forces, but at their own.
- Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.