Hosni Mubarak may be dying but his military regime lives on
"The former president Hosni Mubarak is in a full coma after his health suddenly deteriorated," Egyptian state TV reported Sunday night, July 17, shortly after a cabinet reshuffle was carried out in Cairo to placate rising dissent five months since his overthrow.
But the reports of his state of health are conflicting: Lawyers say he went into a coma after a stroke, while the director of the Sharm el Sheikh hospital denies this.
Aged 83 and suffering from cancer, Mubarak has been confined to a Sharm el-Sheikh hospital since April when he suffered a heart attack during questioning. He and his sons face trial on August 3 on charges of corruption and murder.
The cabinet reshuffle came as Egypt sank ever more deeply into lawlessness and economic stagnation.
City streets are plagued by robbers and outlaws. Many districts have set up vigilante militias to protect life and property. Tens of thousands continue to rally in Tahrir Square against the new rulers, the Supreme Council of Revolutionary Forces’ (SCAF) – and not only in Cairo, but in Suez, Ismailia and Alexandria. They say they are staging what they call "the second Egyptian revolution" – this one against the 25 generals led by Field Marshall Muhammad Tantawi, whom they accuse of stealing the revolution from the Egyptian people and putting the Mubarak regime back in place.
Whether or not the ousted president survives the next few hours is immaterial for the Egyptian street. debkafile's Egyptian sources report that the demonstrators of Tahrir Square no longer believe the military junta can save the country. They suspect the generals are deliberately letting the situation deteriorate, said one opposition source, "to generate anarchy as the pretext for postponing the promised general and presidential elections, already put off once from September to November,"
"The junta wants to be sure of winning the election before it fixes on the date," he said.
Grievances are rife: SCAF heads are accused of having 10,000 political activists detained in the last two months and subjecting some to torture – "just like in the old days." The protesters don't believe the Mubaraks will ever be put on trial and allege that to officials of the former regime are given derisory sentences for corruption and the authorities refrain from confiscating their ill-gotten property.
"The revolution triumphed, Mubarak was toppled, but the machinery of his regime lives on," said another protester.
The World Bank estimates that GDP growth, running at close to 5.5 percent on Mubarak's watch in 2010, plummeted 4.5 percent after the uprising that ousted him due to loss of tourism, industry and trade.
Egypt will be lucky to reach one percent this year.
Unemployment is rife and jobs pay a wretched wage of $50-115 a month – nowhere near enough to generate a consumer drive. Economic stagnation is a major cause of dissent.
Another red flag is the name of Egyptian multi-billionaire Hussein Salem, 76, a former intelligence agent and close friend and business associate of the Mubarak family. The military rulers are accused of turning a blind eye to his escape to Spain aboard his private jet in the early days of the uprising.
Salem is said to have been part and parcel of the former regime's conspiracy to plunder of the national treasury. He was, for instance, awarded prize real estate on the Sharm el-Sharm Red Sea coast for building luxury hotels and the presidential palace from which Mubarak ruled the country. Salem is also accused of setting up the Egyptian-Israel natural gas transaction and raking off revenue for himself and the Mubarak family – a charge which further fans anti-Israel anger on the Egyptian street.
Egyptians are unforgiving of the cordial relations Israeli leaders maintained with the discredited president and claim that they collaborated in Hosni Mubarak's alleged misappropriation of national funds.
The opposition believes that thanks to skullduggery by the generals Salem has been able to evade extradition despite Interpol warrants and stay safely under house arrests in Spain.
Laying hands on the absconding tycoon they are sure would also lead to the recovery of some of the plundered money.
debkafile's Middle East sources confirm the accusation by the opposition that from the day it took over government in Cairo, the military junta SCAF has sat on its hands let the country go to rack and ruin.
Only this week, when the situation became unendurable, was a cabinet reshuffle ordered and the ministers for foreign affairs, finance and trade and industry sacked as a means of unlocking frozen aid funds to get the economy moving. Hazem El Beblawi, an economist who works as an adviser for the Arab Monetary Fund in the United Arab Emirates, was appointed finance minister and deputy prime minister.
The UAE has pledged $3 billion, Saudi Arabia $4 billion, and Qatar $500 million in aid. Additionally, the United States has offered $2 billion.
But the Gulf emirates have set three conditions for making these sums available:
1. The Supreme Council in Cairo must stop working with the Obama administration.
2. The generals must inaugurate ties full security cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC), meaning they must adopt an anti-Iran stance and be willing to make troops available to GCC nations in a potential war with Iran.
3. The military rulers of Egypt must bring closure to the revolution, use the army and security forces to restore law and order and put a stop to the popular demonstrations.
The heads of the junta have not yet decided how to respond to this proposition.
If they accept, they will confirm the worst forebodings of the second wave of Egyptian revolutionaries who fear they are being stuck for the foreseeable future with a military junta instead of the democratically-elected government they dreamed of and fought for.