Sorry Mister President

It is a scene that might ring familiar to readers of Orwell’s Animal Farm: from his private wing in a luxury Cairo hospital, the ousted dictator stands on a balcony waving to an adoring crowd below who chant “we are sorry Mr. President.” From Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar, a visit to the home of Egypt’s former president Mubarak, as the election that will install a replacement strongman approaches.

As you reach Maadi Military Hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, a soldier guarding the main door asks you about the room you intend to visit. In this hospital near the Nile, resides ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Today, Mubarak will celebrate his 86th birthday. He is expected to make an appearance near his hospital room’s window and wave to a crowd of supporters who have launched the “We are sorry, Mr. President” campaign, rejecting the January 25 revolution that toppled him in 2011.

Mubarak last waved to the crowd during a celebration organized by his supporters in front of Maadi Hospital on the 32nd anniversary of the liberation of Sinai from Israel.

Though the Mubarak regime was toppled over three years ago, he still retains some of the presidency’s privileges, including his own security guards and an office that receives requests addressed to him.

Interestingly, Mubarak freely chose to remain in this hospital even though he hasn’t been under house arrest since the state of emergency was lifted about six months ago. The former president preferred to stay in the same hospital where he had been held under sporadic house arrests for about two years.

He was first admitted to Maadi in August 2013 for treatment and spent most of his time there instead of the hospital in Tora Prison.

According to a hospital employee, Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, his daughters-in-law and his grandchildren are always by his side and he sometimes receives other visitors in his room.

Though the Mubarak regime was toppled over three years ago, he still retains some of the presidency’s privileges, including his own security guards and an office that receives requests addressed to him.According to hospital policy, patients are allowed to receive visitors everyday from 4 pm until 8 pm except on Fridays. Usually, visitors enter and exit through gate number 3 and move freely inside. Soldiers will only ask about the room number and then will let people in.

Looking at the balconies from the outside, you notice that there are no relatives standing neither on the first floor, which is made up of administrative offices, nor on the second where Mubarak is staying.

In fact, the hospital’s administration has dedicated half of the second floor to Mubarak, while patients are still receiving visitors as usual in the other half.

A wooden wall separates Mubarak’s wing from the rest of the hospital. This wing has its own entrance and exit points guarded by soldiers who exert all efforts to keep the president undisturbed.

CCTV cameras are scattered all over the hospital while the hospital administration imposes strict rules, restricting visits without prior coordination with the former president’s security office.

At the office, you are received by an officer who asks you to submit a written request to be presented to General Hussein, Mubarak’s office manager. The general will then discuss your request with Mubarak and sets a date for the meeting if you are to be granted access to the former president.

“President Mubarak receives [dozens]of letters and roses from his supporters every day” a doctor said, adding “he received a lot of them on the anniversary of his stepping down from power.”

“We also receive some disturbing letters but his office manager won’t forward them because it may be bad for his health,’ he said. However, he insisted, “most of these letters actually praise him and he is always addressed as President Mubarak,” explaining that such letters can have a positive impact on his health.

Mubarak closely follows the events in Egypt, but though he has received hundreds of requests from all around the country and from some other Arab states, he has only agreed to meet with fewer than ten individuals.

The doctor says Mubarak’s health has slightly improved and that he can leave the hospital whenever he wants.

He also sounded emotional saying, “I am not sure if I should sympathize with the president or support his opponents, but in the end, the man doesn’t like to receive a lot of visits and prefers to spend private time with his family.”

Al-Akhbar asked the doctor to set a meeting with Mubarak’s secretary or his guards, but he said, “they are affiliated to a sovereign authority and cannot be met.”

Unlike the doctor, a cafeteria employee seemed annoyed by the many cameras that have been installed since Mubarak was transferred to the hospital. The 20-year-old complained that his workplace became more “like a prison” due to the many cameras and armored vehicles in front of the building.

Ahmad Jamaleddine