Who’s in cahoots with whom?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

June 21 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Remember the double entendre? Hercule Poirot: Love is not everything. Jacqueline De Bellefort: Oh, but it is. Poirot: It is terrible mademoiselle all that I have missed in life. Jacqueline: Good night Mr. Poirot.

John Guillemin’s 1978 cut of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile elegizes ironically no less poignantly than 2011’s suspects confronting Armageddon.

The Belgian sleuth eavesdrops on chitchat between oddball toffeenoses pottering around pyramids, indulging at Aswan’s fulgent Old Cataract Hotel and swigging gin and tonics on the S.S. Karnak, a paddle steamer on the River Nile.

Substitute Egyptians who were rolling in it, now nibbling fava and cucumber on the state sponsored jailbirds’ slim fast special.

In the movie, a ménage à tois and voracity unveils nine suspects in a series of murders, most prominently the shooting of Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles), jilted lover of the cad Simon Doyle (Simon MacCorkindale) apparently by Jacqueline de Bellefort (Mia Farrow), the cad’s cuddle. Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansbury) and the maid Louise Bourget (Jane Burkin) are wiped out after inadvertently eye witnessing Linnet’s death.

The argute Poirot (Peter Ustinov) figures out that Simon and Jacqueline were the killers, tricking them into believing he possessed conclusive gunpowder tests. Overwhelmed by the detective’s phrenic reasoning, Jackie shoots Simon then turns the gun on herself. The irony: Poirot was bluffing. He had zero evidence to support his assumptions.

But he knew how to get a confession, as we shall consider later.

What’s concerning about the upcoming trial of those charged with plotting to murder unarmed civilians in Tahrir Square is that there appears to be an incomplete montage of mug shots on the prosecutor general’s wall.

Play Cluedo? We’re not talking about Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a cleaver or Miss Scarlet with a candlestick in the study. We’re in Heliopolis Palace, the luxurious residence and executive offices of Hosni Mubarak during the most critical 18 days in contemporary Arab history beginning January 25, 2011.

Or, if you want to be precise, the exact whereabouts of the Mubarak mob between 3.30 pm and Midnight on February 2/3. The Associated Press reports 846Egyptians were killed and more than 6,000 injured in the national mayhem: Egyptians shot in cold blood by marksmen under orders from the commander in chief and/or the minister of the interior and/or security force bigwigs (all accountable to Mubarak) before/after the police were withdrawn and the armed forces assumed their roles.

I don’t want to go to a liman: been there seen that as a visitor to incarcerates in the appalling Kanatar Jail where the threat of brief detention invoked Mrs. Mubarak to throw a wobbly.

But, may I plead that it is not a treasonable offence to ask the question: Name the apparatchiks in the palace vestibules when the orders were sent out to lock, load and fire bullets into the crowd in Tahrir Square.

Specifically, who was in cahoots with Hosni Mubarak? It beggars belief that his sons were his sole advisors. Neither is known to have fired anything more lethal than water pistols. Neither presented themselves for national service as millions do. Both were detested, disrespected by uniformed ranks.

The hangers on? Bureaucrats who grabbed huge tracts of land? Bullyboys masquerading as parliamentarians skulking under cover of immunity from prosecution? Who knows whom among Mubarak’s elite clutch?

Was Mrs. Mubarak, the most powerful cook in the kitchen cabinet, solicitously offering tea and biscuits when a million or more protesters were baying for her husband’s blood?  So far as can be discerned, she’s out on what’s described as police bail: uncharged but restricted in her movements.

Hold the popcorn. You would expect the nation’s 16th vice president Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman educated and trained at Cairo University, Ain Shams University, Moscow’s Fruze Military Academy and the Egyptian Military Academy to be close at hand to Mubarak. You’d imagine Mubarak seeking his counsel.

Facing accusations General Suleiman was reported to have told the public prosecutorial team last month he relayed hourly updates of every bullet fired at protesters and the number of those killed or wounded. What of the others in Heliopolis Palace?

Hercule Poirot has the gift of an open mind. He likes to ruminate, sharing his thoughts with his sidekick Col. Johnny Race (David Niven).

Frustrated at the lack of progress in the investigation of Death on the Nile, Race blurts out: Why doesn’t someone murder her (Mia Farrow)? To which Hercule Poirot replies: Well maybe the world’s lending libraries will band together and hire an assassin!

Which raises an interesting point. Why are these trials being held in Egypt? In South America, where this coup de théâtre plays frequently, the politicians act out shady dramas to avoid dispatching their former presidents to the death chamber. America switches trial venues if a fair trial is unlikely near the scene. Britain puts the big baddies in the Old Bailey wherever they’re from.

Under intense pressure from abroad the former Yugoslavia’s mass murders eventually were rounded up and dispatched in double quick time to the Court of Justice in the Hague, which conveniently got their countrymen’s judges and jurymen off the hook.

The International Criminal Court is recognized by 114 countries. Thirty-one are African states, 15 are Asian, 18 are from Eastern Europe, 25 are from Latin American and the Caribbean and 25 are from Western Europe and elsewhere.

Isn’t it interesting that Egypt isn’t among them? If you want to play in the world, you join up.

However, that doesn’t prevent any signatory, or NATO from filing an application to have Egypt’s post revolutionary trials held in The Hague.

Agatha Christie’s secret as the most read novelist in history? The sting in the tail. Egypt should take a leaf from her books. Send the prosecutor general’s bundles of evidence to The Hague to conduct the trials in full view. Justice will be in plain sight, prime time.

If that’s not acceptable, appoint a blue ribbon commission of international jurists with a mandate to investigate ‘all security activities concerning Egypt between January 10 until February 14.’ They should ask whose brass hats were hanging where? Washington? London? Paris?

In a sense either investigation would be equivalent to Poirot’s bluff. Faced with a trial of Nuremberg proportions the cabal in charge of Egypt’s file would probably do a Poirot and corral all the suspects in Tora.

But that would only beg the question of plea-bargaining.

Like Poirot said: You must think of everything.

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


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