EU Australia Online - News & information from the capital of Europe direct to Australian businesses

Egypt and Italy: Old Blokes Holding On

  • February 11th, 2011
  • Posted by 7thmin

egypt-protest-a1.jpegDetermination and exasperation contend in the case of Hosni Mubarak, besieged by a restive public calling time on his long reign, and in the case of Silvio Berlusconi, once more being pursued in the courts.


The Egyptian President declared he would “not be dictated to”, making a television  appearance to disappoint, and aggravate angry crowds filing out of Friday prayers, by saying he would make no concessions to their demand for his resignation – except to hand over certain functions to his recently-appointed deputy, Omar Suleiman.

Mr Mubarak, 82, has been in office since 1981, never in an entirely secure position, often intimating to  sympathetic though sceptical Western backers he was in close danger of overthrow by the militant Islamic Brotherhood.

A taxi driver poll offered to this writer in 1991, gives some of the flavour of long-held, pent-up distaste among the general public: “The Presidential house is just up that way”, the driver indicated. “Very close to the airport, of course!!”

Pressure on Mubarak, internal and external has continued to mount.

Government leaders in some of the European member states were reported dissatisfied with the continuation of aid payments to Egypt in the stalemate.


berlusconi-two-2001-ecthumbnail1.jpgSilvio Berlusconi, 74, right-of-centre Prime Minister of Italy, ladies’ man and media mogul, has been complaining of unfair treatment in news media, and in the courts, over charges that he paid money to an under-age prostitute – then intervened to help her get out of some trouble with the police.

ruby-rubacuori.jpgThe young lady, “Ruby the heart stealer”, was 17 at the time of the alleged offence last year; above Italy’s Renaissance-style age of consent, but under a separate law, one year too young to legally receive  payments  for sex.

She’s talked publicly about “Bunga Bunga”: great fun going on at the Prime Minister’s much spoken-of poolside parties.

See EUAustralia Online: “Italy: ‘Bunga Bunga’, ‘Silly old Silvio’, and the courts”, (15.1.11); “Berlusconi holds on”, 15.12.10.

Mr Berlusconi has been subject to legal proceedings before, usually over financial matters, and has escaped due to his popularity in the polls, being able to get himself back into office and then invoke a Prime Ministerial immunity.

This time his legal adversaries have set aside the white-collar issues and fastened attention on a straight-out criminal matter, having prepared the ground also with success in another court, which has whittled away at the traditional office-holder’s immunity rights.

A panel of judges this week is deliberating; they may decide to permit a summary process, meaning a fast-track into a trial; they may decide the evidence is not that strong, so a longer route will be taken, to queue the case into a hearing at some future date, or they may drop the matter and let the accused go free.

He refuses to appear in court, and is demanding an exoneration, arguing the whole thing is politically driven, and should go to parliament, where he still has the numbers.

A worst-case, adverse verdict on the Ruby matter for Berlusconi could actually mean jail – no place there for partying, “Bunga Bunga” style.


Removal of despotic or otherwise errant rulers in contemporary times takes different forms.

Parallels have been drawn between the current Egyptian situation and the 1979 insurrection in Iraq, though the public movement was much bigger, nearly a whole population turning out in the streets, with a far bigger religious hold on the population, the outstanding leader the Ayatollah Khomeini, and weaker secular political community than Egypt.

tienanmen-anniv11.jpgThe model for dealing with a change of government, proposed  by people in the street, in China, was the brutal use of tanks around Tienanmen Square, in June 1989. With the ambivalent tone of statements being made by military leaders in Cairo, that is not being forgotten.

berlin-wall-europaeu1.jpgNot forgotten either in Berlin , where a “Beijing  solution” was openly spoken  of, before the communist regime buckled, and handed over to free elections. Opening the Berlin Wall (picture) became the signal event. Not forgotten in that case: the satellite governments of Eastern Europe went down after the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, indicated they were on their own. Like today perhaps, the government of Egypt standing alone, having worn out its welcome with powerful friends in the West.

Also of interest in this historical context, is that case of Nicolai Ceasescu, who became President of Romania in 1967, and was executed, aged 71, on Christmas Day 1989. This was done as a coup d’etat, though with thousands of citizens out on the street as effectively extras to the drama, several being shot by security police – the Securitate – loyal to their Communist Party leader. The army linked up with certain quick-thinking elements of the ruling party, some former comrades who’d been out of favour, and even some former Securitate, to declare themselves a new broom. Liberals and other oppositionists were freed to protest and organise for free elections, though branded “hooligans” for their trouble, and finding  themselves out-manoeuvred, unable to get elected to office for a decade.

Sacrificing the old man might be a way to keep the old gang in place.

The violent overthrow option has an extra application – bring in an army from outside. That was effective in bringing an end to reform communism in Czechoslovakia, the “Prague Spring” in 1968; lines of Russian and other Warsaw Pact tanks rolling in to set things right, as it were.

Such precedents might come to mind in the present stand-offs in the Middle East. Perhaps make it be true, what Muammar Gaddafi, has been saying in Libya, that foreigners are behind it – and send in some outside troops? Modern-day versions of armed colonial interventions are unpopular with the professional armies in the West, and their governments. It is not done any more, and can be extremely counterproductive, though here and there an intervention might take place where there is a humanitarian application. In recent years, in the example of Sierra Leone, use of British troops arrested a deeply tragic chain of events.

New blood for old regimes very often brings up the question of sons. It’s been a galling issue for many that Gamal Mubarak, 46, appeared to have been getting the nod. Off to the American University in Cairo at the time his father was succeeding the assassinated Anwar Sadat, he took up international banking, then began filling government jobs. On 4.2.11 Vice-President Omar Suleiman, amid a string of concessions meant to placate the crowds, announced that Gamal was not looking to take over the presidency. (The incident had an echo in Yemen, another of the Middle East countries experiencing a bout of popular unrest, where the President  – Ali Abdullah Saleh, over 16 years in the seat – declared his son  would not be taking up the mantle, either).

Putting the young, or not-so-young namesake into father’s chair has a fascination in political families. Monarchies lead the field of course; a recent example, in the very Middle East region, the Hashemite succession in Jordan, Abdullah following Hussein.

George W. Bush in the United States, son of a preceding President,  was helped with the contacts but had to go through an election. That was all-in-all straight enough, save for some problems with electoral bungling and the hanging chads in Florida, where they had his brother in as Governor.

Remaining in America, Richard M. Nixon had to be levered out of office when trapped by “Watergate”. It appeared that he knew burglars from his support organisation were going into the opposition party headquarters. Opponents took a legal route, pushing the man to formal inquiries, and likely impeachment in parliament. It did not help that he’d bugged his own office, with evidence produced that somebody had later tampered with the tapes. Though comfortably re-elected in 1972, he had to resign less than two years in to his new term.

A third US President in this review, Bill Clinton, is closest to the Berlusconi model. Sexual encounters with a young woman in his office nearly brought his presidency undone, (except, it appeared  most of those seriously bothered by his behaviour were already counted among his political enemies). The escapade might have eventually harmed the electoral chances of his Vice-President, Al Gore, narrowly beaten for President by Bush juniour, (see above).

Nothing so squeamish as holding elections in Syria, Assad senior passing on the top place to Assad junior – but not before his actual death.

In Singapore Lee Kuan Yew gave the lad a good run as an ordinary Minister, while staying in touch himself as a special Minister of state (from 1990), able to get the candidate in as PM in 2004.

Then there’s the way they handle successions in North Korea, once such transition apparently coming up – another world entirely.


European Voice, Brussels, “EU under pressure to reassess aid to Egypt: Member states want to tighten aid conditions,while Ashton will tell Mubarak that country’s aid is at risk”, 10.2.11. aspx, (10.2.11).

Gulf Daily News, Bahrain, Vol.XXXIII No.321,”Mubarak’s son will not seek office”, 4.2.11., (10.2.11).

Wikipedia, SF, Gamal Mubarak., (10.2.11).

See EUAustralia Online, “Commentary: Beijing, Berlin, Leipzig: How close did East germany come to its own ‘Tienanmen  solution’?”, 4.6.09.