I’ve only once felt dirty, or sullied, in my working career. I had to prepare a letter of invitation for Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman, for decades Hosni Mubarak’s right hand man: head of intelligence service, runner of secret prisons, compiler of blacklists, torturer-in-chief (although I’m not sure he ever got his own hands dirty; the first rule of succesful tyranny, at all levels, is that the really bad shit must always be delegated). Whatever happened in Egypt, Suleiman knew it first. The invitation was merely a matter of protocol, and I knew that the letter would undoubtedly get lost in the vast corridors of the Mogamma, the monolithic yet somewhat magnificent Interior Ministry building on Tahrir Square. Yet I still felt uneasy at even the hint of a personal connection between myself and this monster of a man.
That feeling returned on Saturday when Mubarak, in his wisdom (or desperation?) appointed Suleiman as his vice-president. Suleiman would not have been Mubarak’s first choice. He’s not stupid, and he knows what they people want, and he knows what the people know, and the people know that Suleiman is not what they want. There are some relative moderates in Mubarak’s political circle, and they would have been much better choices; if still ineffective. Rumour has it that they said no. Either way, the new Vice-President has only inflamed the opposition.
Speaking of choices: a much better one has been made by the Egyptian opposition, whoever that may encompass: Mohamed ElBaradei is a safe pair of hands as the opposition figurehead. I have had the privilege of meeting the man himself; he is measured, dignified, and supremely intelligent. He dances very poorly, but that is neither here nor there. He also has a moral backbone. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the Presidency is his end goal; he is much more concerned with toppling Mubarak and ensuring a new, transparent, progressive politics emerges. My hope is that he can be some kind of interim leader, one that oversees the country and organises proper elections, even if this takes a couple of years. Egypt must not repeat the mistake made in Iraq, where interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi focussed more on getting himself re-elected, and the political squabbles which are an inevitable part of that, than actually getting the country off the ground. ElBaradei, as the only unifying figure in a fairly disparate opposition (and the only person with serious international credibility), is the perfect candidate to manage this transition process. If he is not completely selfless, and few are, he is also well aware that this role is likely to do far more for his reputation and legacy than would a couple of messy terms as president of a country which will take some time to get itself right. What are the odds on a Nobel Peace Prize being awarded twice to the same person? Perhaps its worth a punt.
VERDICT: Omar Suleiman goes 4th, despite the promotion; Mohamed ElBaradei goes forth, with the weight of Egypt and the world’s expectations on his shoulders.
PS. Thanks to Always Judged Guilty for the welcome back.