Egypt, October 6, 1981
"Errayyess fain?" Where's the boss?
That was the cry heard in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. In that chaotic scene of upturned chairs, dead and wounded dignitaries and bodyguards and security men rushing around there was a frantic scramble to find the president. When they finally did manage to locate him it was too late for Egypt's president.
Moments before, Vice-President Hosni Mubarak was sitting resplendent in his air force general's uniform right next to his rayyess watching the military parade.
Which is how Mubarak became president. The rest, as they say, is history.
30 years on. Mubarak is sitting in the presidential palace in his civilian suit reflecting on where it all went wrong. He has heard and seen his own people call him a donkey and a pig, demanding, ordering him to leave. In 2008 some 30,000 of them rioted in in the industrial city of Mahalla, tearing his giant pictures off billboards and trampling them in front of the world's cameras.
He was assured by the yes-men he had surrounded himself with that these were disaffected textile workers whose dispute with their bosses had spilled on to the streets.
That became the cry of people throughout the Arab world. Amidst the chaos of their daily lives, the harshness of their existence, the ruthlessness of their hideous intelligence services, the inadequacy of their educational systems, the call reverberated.
The call was not for or about the leader in the seat of power, for the people had lost faith in him long ago. They were searching for a savior from their predicament of poverty, malnourished children, squandered wealth, lack of opportunity and freedoms and a long list of similar injustices.
Egypt, January 25, 2011
A new rayyess has emerged. He's in every one of those hundreds of thousands gathered as one in Liberation Square. What an apt name for the venue.
The jumble of upturned chairs on that fateful day in October 1981 swallowed the rayyess. The assassination of Sadat stunned the Arab world. Some celebrated the death of the man who made peace with Israel and betrayed the Arabs. Others lamented the passing of a man who had the courage to be a realist and a pragmatist.
That event cemented the break between president and people. The people were to be kept at a distance, never to be trusted. All interactions with them had to be carefully orchestrated.
The day Sadat was killed an earthquake struck the office of president of the republic in the Arab world. If you listen carefully maybe you can hear it still rattling and the man who occupies it shuddering.
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
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