The Episode That Toppled an Egyptian Cabinet

Media and Politics
By Yomna El-Saeed
Freelance Writer- Egypt

Scene of the famous media interview

It was a unique, unprecedented night in the Egyptian history. It was Wednesday, March 2, when the Egyptian private satellite channel ON TV made a historical media interview by hosting Former Prime Minister, Dr. Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed by the former president Hosni Mubarak before he stepped down, and opposition figures in Egypt. Opposition figures along with the revolutionists demanded Shafik to step down, as they consider him a part of the toppled regime.

The episode started from 10:00pm and ended at 2:00am Cairo local time. Shafik was interviewed among the outspoken opposing Egyptian novelist Alaa Al-Aswany and the veteran TV broadcaster Hamdi Kandil in the presence of –neutral- businessman and ONTV owner Naguib Sawiris.

In Egypt, in the dark ages before January 25 revolution, both questions and answers of any interview with any PMs or government official were always prepared (or you can say fabricated) in advance and always exclude any opposing guest. And that is what made the Egyptian viewers surprised, and expected a hot episode, especially because Al-Aswany and Kandil are known for their patriotism and integrity.

Alaa al-Aswany clearly and boldly articulated the demands of the revolution, asked Shafik a number of critical –and very embarrassing- questions. He told Shafik that he was part of the regime Egyptians toppled, that he was against the revolution since it started until Mubarak stepped down, that he even rejected calling it a revolution but rather opted to dub it “wide protests”, so he cannot represent Egypt in the post-revolution era. Al-Aswany also told Shafik that he would go back to Tahrir square among the revolutionists asking him to step down.

Shafik generally did not have strong arguments but rather shouted loudly saying that when he was the minister of aviation he was very successful without relying Mubarak, he also said that he fought in wars, and he has a history of patriotism! 71-year-old Kandil asked Shafik with the calmness and the wisdom of the elder, "How do you stay on as a prime minister and accept it even when you know that the majority of Egyptians want you out? I expected you to resign right after Mubarak stepped down” but he did not get any response.

The debate reached its climax when al-Aswany told Shafik that his main priority should be providing security to Egyptians, asked his opinion about the snipers, and asked him if he saw the video of the car running over and killing the revolutionists. At that time Shafik lost his temper and yelled at al-Aswany "Stop putting on the face of a patriot.”  Followed by a few brief time of yelling from both sides, in what can be considered as the first form of live TV democracy-style debate Egypt has ever witnessed!

In the next day, Thursday in the morning Shafik quitted. He announced that he quitted out of his own will after he realized that the Egyptian people do not want him, but some sources said that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces asked him to quit after the debate.

On Friday, his successor Dr. Essam Sharaf, spent his first day on the job by going to Tahrir Square and telling the huge number of protesters that he would carry out on their demands for democracy. If he did not, he said, he would be the first one to join them on the streets. "I get my legitimacy from you, the people," Mr. Sharaf told cheering crowds before being carried out triumphantly from the square on the shoulders of supporters.

The contradictory styles between the two PMs indicate a deep change in Egyptian politics thanks to the country's revolution that toppled Mubarak last month.

Al-Aswany he was never honored in Egypt officially because of his opposition to Mubarak’s autocracy.

Criticizing al-Aswany

Now, thousands and thousands of Egyptians have been accusing al-Aswany of being “rude” and “provocative” many Facebook pages were created for that purpose. Those people are basically those who were pro-Shafik and were previously for the idea that Mubarak should stay till the end of his term next September. Those people also have never seen a PM being genuinely interrogated and roasted in a parliament or in a press conference before, and definitely none of them has not lost a relative or lost any eye by Mubarak’s snipers or thugs.

Al-Aswany; a dentist-turned- novelist and writer, has written columns liberally for Egyptian newspapers on literature, politics and social issues since the late 90’s. He was known for opposing Mubarak’s dictatorship and attentive to the human rights’ violations of his regime. He, as well as Hamdy Kandil, is a board member of the opposing National Assembly For Change. He also co-founded an anti-torture human rights association.

Alaa al-Aswany as a novelist is famous for his second novel Yacoubian Building, published in 2002, that depicts the ills of modern Egypt through the inhabitants of a once-fashionable apartment block in downtown Cairo called Yacoubian. Yacobian Building was then made a movie and a TV serial, starred by Egypt’s most prominent actors and were among the hugest productions in this industry. Yacoubian Building was translated into 30 languages and sold over one million copies in 100 countries. It remained a bestseller throughout the Arab world for five years in a row, taking second place only after he issued his subsequent novel “Chicago”.

Al-Aswany won a number of awards, and was honored internationally in a number of book fairs in Europe and America. Last November Al-Aswany, was the first Egyptian and Arab to receive the University of Illinois Alumni Achievement Award for his contributions to the field of literature. Yet he was never honored in Egypt officially because of his opposition to Mubarak’s autocracy!

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