A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 4, 2012

Husni's Got Those Tura Prison Blues

I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Tura Prison,
And time keeps draggin' on,
(With my sincerest apologies to the estate of Johnny Cash)

The Egyptian and Arab media has been a bit preoccupied with the Big Man's first days in the Big House. After the verdict Saturday in which former President Husni Mubarak was sentenced to life imprisonment, he apparently boarded the helicopter which brought him to the court expecting to be returned to his suite at the International Medical Center where he has spent the months of the trial. When the helicopter landed instead at the notorious Tura Prison outside of Cairo, Mubarak reportedly refused to disembark for some two hours. Some reports say three.

Based upon this summary of the Egyptian papers, Al-Wafd is reporting he has treated the warden as if he were still President and kicked out all his nurses; AL-Shorouk reports he passed out three times while being checked in to the prison hospital, and demanded that his personal staff be transferred from the International Medical Center, which was denied. Also:
Al-Shorouk’s coverage also includes a moment of Shakespearean self-reflection, with Mubarak reportedly overheard wondering aloud, “What will come after the sentencing of Mubarak? What else is there to be desired after all that has taken place?” The paper reports: “[Mubarak] then began shouting, ‘May God punish those responsible for sending me to jail, this is unjust! Unjust! I have always been with the people,’ before surrendering to sleep until the morning.”
Forgive me if I suspect Al-Shorouk here of the old Egyptian journalistic tactic known in the trade as "just plain making stuff up.

Some reports say his son was allowed to spend the night with him, but the official press reports say he had to spend the night alone.  Suzanne Mubarak and the two daughters-in-law have visited him in prison.

It's also been reported that he rejected wearing prison uniform, and Al-Ahram says he may be exempted.

One reason for the fascination with Mubarak's life in prison is, of course, the rarity of a deposed President ending up in prison after an actual judicial trial, as opposed to a coup. As well as, of course, the "how the mighty have fallen" aspect, and the irony that Tura prison has a long reputation as the repository of political prisoners. (I plan to post soon on the prison's history. As noted last year, it may have been founded  on the very day Mubarak was born.) And perhaps the media hopes to defuse anger about the sentence, or reports de-emphasizing the life sentence and noting that Mubarak will be eligible for parole in 25 years. (When he will be 109. But some people seem angry he could get out that soon.) Perhaps, too, they want to emphasize he really is in jail, since some reports of his suite at the International Medical Center emphasized he had several rooms for visitors, and a pool.

With renewed apologies to the Johnny Cash estate:

I bet there's rich folks eatin',
In a fancy dining car,
They're probably drinkin' coffee,
And smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free,
But those people keep a-movin',
And that's what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine,
I bet I'd move out over a little,
Farther down the line,
Far from Tura Prison,
That's where I want to stay,
And I'd let that lonesome whistle,
Blow my Blues away.

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