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Mubarak visit clouded in secrecy whats the pharaoh doing in pretoria?

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* By Iqbal Jassat

Many eyebrows have been raised with the announcement that Egypt’s uninspiring leader Hosni Mubarak is in South Africa on an official state visit. Questions about the purpose of his surprise trip have not been adequately addressed barring the usual diplomatic niceties usually reserved for visiting heads of state.

While not much public interest has been generated thus far about what the Pharaoh hopes to achieve in his meeting with President Mbeki at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, this could be explained by the fact that media has been exceptionally slow in raising any substantial discourse on either Egypt or its quintessential Arab dictator.

Mubarak, who is in power since 1981, following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, has perfected the art of stifling opposition in order to remain an unchallenged supremo with the assistance of the military. As the head of the African continents’ most strategic country, he has also straddled between being a key player within the Arab League as well as the African Union, thus raising his profile as an indispensable ruler.

The United States of course has made and continues to make huge financial grants – in excess of $80billion – to retain Mubarak’s services as a client. As a bulwark of US interest, Egypt under Mubarak plays a central role in George W Bush’s discredited “War on Terror”. Political opposition – whether emanating from the Muslim Brotherhood or other secular groupings – is relentlessly crushed under the pretext that to do otherwise would be to risk “destabilizing” the country.

Mubarak’s phony democracy is thus underpinned by three hugely unpopular sources: the army, the security and Western political and economical support! America, Europe, fellow Arab and African dictators have all turned a blind eye to his pretence that he runs a democracy.

America’s unconditional support also extends to the horrendous methods whereby Muslim activists are detained without trial, tortured, tried by military courts and executed in large numbers. Potential challengers to his reign such as Dr Ayman Noor and many more political dissidents languish for years on end in notorious black holes such as the Mazra Torah Prison.

Alongside the Saudi monarchy, Egypt has attempted to place huge restrictions on media freedom in the region. By formulating new repressive measures under a so-called “Charter” which journalists are expected to abide by, many media institutions have had their publications shut down. The most significant recent victim has been the Central News Center [CNC] whose operation as a service provider to al-Jazeera, BBC, France 2 and others has been unceremoniously shut down.

That Egypt remains under uninterrupted emergency rule for the last 27 years, allows Mubarak access to a variety of security tools and legislations to remain unrivalled and create a false illusion of “legitimacy”.

So what brings him to Pretoria? What is he able to offer a people who struggled courageously to rid South Africa of a regime not too dissimilar to his oppressive government? Is he here as an emissary of Bush to persuade Mbeki to embrace Africom? Or is he here to campaign against the Western Sahara’s freedom from Morocco’s occupation on behalf of Europe?

While many questions abound, one thing is certain: Egypt under Mubarak remains uninspiring!

* Iqbal Jassat- Chairman: Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Pretoria (Tshwane), South