To oust Mubarak, Egyptian protesters must appeal to vanity, not shame
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is unbothered by spotlights shaming him. The only way he'll step down is if he believes it will burnish his image.
Before President Hosni Mubarak visits a certain neighborhood in Cairo, police move in to tow cars and pick up garbage, so he doesn’t have to see what his cluttered, polluted capital really looks like. A student of mine showed me a series of about 30 photographs he took in his neighborhood of police and government workers feverishly removing garbage and cars from a main street before Mubarak arrived in all his eminence.Skip to next paragraph
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Around Egypt, there are absurd images of the man. My favorite is a large billboard on the road to Cairo International Airport featuring him in a finely tailored suit, wearing designer sunglasses, and walking alone in a wheat field as he runs his fingers across the wind-kissed grains. Another gem is a Rushmore-like bust of himself that Mubarak had carved into the side of a rocky hill outside Cairo.
The hundreds of thousands of protesters now swelling central Cairo are trying to oust Mubarak by appealing to his sense of shame. That’s the wrong approach. They should be trying to appeal to his sense of vanity.
Mubarak has no problem with the notion that he’s exceptional, and he doesn’t embarrass easily. He’s unbothered by spotlights shaming him. The only way Mubarak will step down from power, other than death, is if he believes he is some sort of political martyr who was terribly misunderstood in his time, and that those writing history will see it the same way.
This is Mubarak’s Brett Favre moment. He has a choice: He can leave now, in a way of his choosing, with the smallest measure of self-respect. Or he can leave later, in a way not of his choosing, with ignominy.
Mubarak has gone on the record in a few past interviews, rhetorically asking journalists things like, “I’ve been president in this country for many years, and what has it gotten me?,” which he once posed to journalist Randa Abul Azm. He clearly views himself as an embattled public servant who thanklessly met the needs of his people. Like Harry Truman, perhaps.