May 1, 2005
· The longtime president's seven-hour tete-a-tete with a reporter on TV is a journey to the past, and his critics find in it little hope for change.
By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer
Word that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had given a seven-hour television interview raced through coffee houses and newspapers last week. It was an uncommon move from a ruler more given to ceremonial speeches than to cozy tete-a-tetes with reporters. Most tantalizing of all, the government newspapers wrote knowingly, the interview would include a surprise.
news indeed. Aside from assassinations, wars with neighboring
And so Egyptians tuned in eagerly for three nights to find out what was next: Would Mubarak announce his candidacy and ask his people to vote for him? Would he say that he wouldn't seek another term, putting a dramatic end to his storied career? Would he make some other, unpredictable move?
He did not.
"I'm trying something new here," Mubarak told television reporter Imad El-Din Adeeb, who prefaced most questions with "Your Excellency," and lobbed softballs such as, "Did you always have this confidence?" and "Did you always have this internal thermometer to detect who was a sycophant and who was honest?"
At one point, Adeeb told Mubarak, whose regime has a long record of jailing journalists, "One does not worry when you are around, but if I were conducting this interview with any other president, and I asked him a question he didn't like, he would have me arrested before I got to my house."
For pro-democracy activists still waiting for
"Considering Mubarak's interview last night, I don't think there's going to be any real change," said Mahfouz Azzam of
Protesters chanted "Down with Mubarak," and "Freedom, freedom, where are you? Mubarak stands between me and you." Thick lines of security agents lined the streets before them, batons in hand.
"There are people who have no interest in change. They've been ruling for 25 years by force, by oppression, by torture," Azzam said. "They're not willing to give up their privileges or their seats."
In the interview, Mubarak spent hours reliving the bad old days of the wars with
Then Adeeb asked Mubarak about
"You want me to lift the emergency law when the whole world is putting it in place?" Mubarak said, apparently referring to anti-terrorism provisions passed in Europe and the
Adeeb asked whether the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organization that is believed to be the most powerful and popular party in
Finally, at the end of the last night of the interview, Adeeb popped the big question: Would Mubarak run for president?
"I still haven't decided," he replied.
It was a strangely demure response. Many analysts believe that the president is planning to orchestrate a sort of popular request for his candidacy. Already, an Egyptian singer — famed for the hit single "I Hate
The interview, shot by a famous young Egyptian director, showed Mubarak looking calm, comfortable and sturdy. Gone was the haggard weariness that creased his face in the fall of 2003, when he suffered a "health crisis" during a televised speech before parliament and rumors of illness swirled.
Most of the interview was devoted to events of the last century. It was well into the last segment before the interview touched on current topics.
Mubarak took Adeeb to a military control room and map room to tell tales of long-finished wars. (The visit to the control room, many observers concluded, was the touted surprise, but nobody knows for sure.) The president spoke of the battles with
"I've only had three months' holiday in my 56-year career," Mubarak said. "I've been doing hard labor for 56 years, and it's all for
"The dialogue was between two players from the same team," columnist Magdi Mahanna wrote in the independent Masri al Yom newspaper. "Imad Adeeb would throw the ball to President Mubarak, who would score easy goals."
Mubarak said he never cried, and that he had no time for fear.
"There's no place for despair in my life," he said. "Where there's life, there's hope. Despair does not know me."
Near the end of the second night, Adeeb asked the president how he managed to stay so calm all the time.
"I am never provoked," Mubarak said.
"Even when you are sitting with [Benjamin] Netanyahu or [Ariel] Sharon, for example?" pressed Adeeb, referring to
"I may be provoked internally," Mubarak replied reassuringly, "but I will never show it."
Jailan Zayan in The Times'
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