This editorial, written by Brock History professor John Sainsbury, originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Jan. 28.**Hosni Mubarak has demonstrated remarkable survival skills during his long presidency. But he’s now likely facing the humiliation of becoming the first Egyptian president to be driven from power by a popular uprising.John SainsburyGamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s second president, died in office in 1970, his spirit broken by his country’s shattering defeat at the hands of Israel in the Six-Day War and by the collapse of his vision of pan-Arab unity. Yet such was Nasser’s charisma that, even after his death, he retained iconic status with the Egyptian masses and for many throughout the Arab world. They worshipped him as an agent of social equality and as someone who had withstood the neo-colonialist bullying of Britain and France.His successor, Anwar Sadat, could never aspire to Nasser’s popularity, but he exceeded expectations with his bold statecraft. After declaring victory in the October war of 1973 (even as Israeli troops were surrounding the bulk of the Egyptian army), he launched a remarkable diplomatic reversal, bringing Egypt closer to the United States and signing a peace treaty with Israel.His policy infuriated diehard Nasserites and Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood, but his success in reclaiming the Sinai from Israel helped to mollify public opinion. Until Sadat was felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1981, he retained a firm grip on the levers of power.And so to Mubarak, Sadat’s successor. I had small glimpses (no more) into the character of his regime when I lived in Egypt from 1984 to 1989, working as a history professor at the American University in Cairo. Like many observers, I puzzled over these questions: Was Egypt a working democracy with a powerful presidency (something equivalent, say, to France under the Fifth Republic when Charles de Gaulle was at the helm) or was it a police state, its so-called parliamentary institutions no more than a fig-leaf over what in reality was one-man rule?The signals were ambiguous. On the one hand, the secret police were everywhere, and one quickly learned to recognize them. On the other hand, Egyptians, or at least those I met, hardly seemed cowed or intimidated.Jokes about Mubarak circulated freely, and without apparent recrimination. He was called ” la vache qui rit” because of his odd resemblance to the Laughing Cow on the cheese label. Fun was made of his supposed lack of brain-power.After he visited Indira Gandhi, a joke made the rounds that he was sporting a red jewel in the middle of his forehead. Asked why, he explained that he and Indira had enjoyed a long conversation, at the end of which Indira had tapped his head and said: “Hosni, you’re really lacking something up there.”With the benefit of hindsight, the jokes seem to me now less a product of free speech, and more a brave attempt to find respite in humour from the intrusions of an increasingly oppressive regime.Ominously, even in its early years, the regime was provoking more violent responses. In 1986, there was a co-ordinated mutiny by low-ranking members of the Central Security Force, bedraggled conscripts assigned to guard embassies and other public buildings. They burst out of their barracks near the Pyramids, looting and burning shops, even killing some tourists who stood in their path. The insurrection was squashed with brutal efficiency by troops of the regular Egyptian army.The origins of the 1986 mutiny have never been made clear. Quite possibly, a disgruntled government minister engineered it as an attempted coup d’etat. But now Mubarak is facing the challenge, not of a palace revolution, but of a people’s revolution. Middle-class intellectuals are joining ranks with ordinary Egyptians, frustrated by unrelenting poverty. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups are poised to make their move. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has returned. The support of the army for Mubarak is no longer guaranteed.In fairness to Mubarak, not all the problems he faces are of his own making. He was burdened with the expectation that Sadat’s diplomatic reversal would bring prosperity in its wake — something that has never really happened despite massive American subsidies.Yet Mubarak is to a large extent the author of his own misfortune. Whatever democratic instincts he might have had at his accession have long since disappeared.The most recent presidential election was a gruesome farce, with Mubarak’s only opponent subsequently imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Mubarak’s blatant promotion of his corrupt sons is straight from the Saddam Hussein playbook.The question is not if the regime will tumble but when. In the meantime, the Laughing Cow is laughing no more.

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