Dial 9-1-1 & hold the phone

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 11, 2011

By   Philip Whitfield

Lightening the mood at a tête-à-tête with the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai coming up to 25 years after Chairman Mao’s fall from grace, Henry Kissinger asked what he thought was Mao’s contribution. Zhou replied: Too early to say.

With seemingly almost everyone prepared to write off the Mubaraks, bear in mind the family’s gilt-edged Rolodex has the names, numbers, dates and whereabouts that could empty half of Heliopolis. Given their predicament, Suzanne, Gamal and Alaa could fill a refugee boat with high rollers.

They’ve got the power to force the next government to supersize a prison to hold them all if they choose to cook the crooks. Who knows how many diggers might be needed if Hosni fluffs his lines in the state confessional?

So expect the plot to change as Judgment Day nears. We’re going to witness realpolitik, the art of pragmatism bludgeoning ideology, pejorative to bash perjurers blabbing before their interrogators.

When I came to Cairo in 2002 to try my hand at writing a book, one of Mubarak’s henchmen, a cop, told me as he pointed out the scammers in Talaat Harb Street: Everyone lies. Truth doesn’t count. The guys with the best lies win.

Arrayed before the recently duplicitous exposed is an amalgam of ill-equipped, good natured naïves, strong on tweets, weak on muscle. They’re too nice for conventional rough and tumble. They pulled off the coup aided and abetted by nobody but themselves. Now what?

The African proverb When spider webs unite they can catch a lion proved prophetic. Most salient is the leadership vacuum. Politics and nature abhor inanition. Unlikely elements tend to slink in and weasel their way in to control.

What’s concerning many is the list of the repugnant preconditions laid down thus far such as no women and no one under 40 to run for the highest office.

By a fluke, Mary Robinson and me share a godchild. Mrs. Robinson routed the jelly-leggers for the presidency of Ireland and transformed that office into a vibrant movement for change, a bulwark for courageous endeavor on behalf of subjugated Irish women, smothered by chauvinists in a dreary political bog. She went on to serve as a stellar High Commissioner for Human Rights for the United Nations giving hope, aid and comfort to the dispossessed on this planet. Women have demonstrated their acumen to run countries.

Rome wasn’t built overnight and Egypt won’t be reborn painlessly either. But the women who rock the cradles deserve a significant role in the regeneration. Patriotism is not a men only club, though I tend to agree with Samuel Johnson that it’s the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Youth’s another matter. Generation Y who gave their all to better society have earned a pivotal role. If you ask Brits who was England’s greatest Englishman, nine out of ten would cite Winston Churchill – in his seventies when World War II ended and forgetting the electorate showed Winnie the door given the first opportunity to vote after the war.

Historians, however, confer the distinction on William Pitt the younger, known as the Great Reformer, effectively PM and Finance Minister for almost 19 years after being trusted with the job at the age of 24 in1783. Young Pitt cleaned up the rotten boroughs, threw out his own party’s good-for-nothing gerrymanders, led the nation out of penury, reorganized India and Canada, introduced the first banknotes and kept Napoleon on his toes throughout the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He raised enough cash for Admiral Nelson to win the Battle of Trafalgar and save the country from invasion and arranged a clever alliance of Russians, Swedes and Austrians. Puts NATO to shame, hey? Remember, Pitt was only 24 when he was given the front door key to Number 10 Downing Street.

Unless Egypt’s young revolutionaries and women are included in the new society we’ll be back in Tahrir Square scraping up scapegoats and the Mubarak mob will be gloating on Al Jazeera’s phone lines with plausible told-you-so’s. That will defame the impeccable intentions of those who were tried and tested only to find themselves sidelined by unscrupulous political hacks. There’s time to emend the script, time to graciously yield the offices to virtuous worthies.

Form a queue ladies and gentlemen, young and old, and let all the people pronounce their preferences. Let Justice do her work undeterred by those cracking boulders under the hard labor regimen they, themselves, decreed for villains.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at pjwcairo@yahoo.com or twittered @mohendessin.

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