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Fallen Queens: Egypt’s prison visitor

By Tony Gamal Gabriel, translatiohn by Olivier Milland
Posted on Thursday, 8 March 2012 15:44

There was a time when ministers kissed her hand, because she was the First Lady of Egypt. But since the revolution Suzanne Mubarak has been living in an isolated villa in a suburb of Cairo. Gala dinners and international conferences are but a bleak memory.

Henceforth, she is to spend her days visiting the hospital where her husband is currently residing, and the prison where her sons Alaa and Gamal have been detained.

According to the family’s lawyer, the former First Lady is living on a comfortable retirement of over US$15.000 a month, while the hospital bill for her husband is covered by the state.

She is the only one in the Mubarak clan who still lives in freedom. She was released in May 2011, after giving up her fancy villa in the chic residential area of Heliopolis and paying EGP 24 million (about US$4m) to the state. The family’s wealth is estimated at several billion dollars.

Today, Suzanne Mubarak is surrounded by many exaggerated rumours. Suzanne, it is said, was about to publish an autobiography in which she supposedly claimed herself as the “queen of Egypt”, although this has been strongly denied by her alleged British publisher.

Another rumour suggests that Suzanne Mubarak is involved in a counter-revolutionary conspiracy. After the fatal football match in Port Said, causing the death of 77 people, Selim al-Awa and a presidential candidate said she should be placed under house arrest.

Beforehand, no one had ever imagined such a fate for Suzanne Mubarak, daughter of an Egyptian doctor and a Welsh nurse. Suzanne Thabet, born in Minya in 1941, grew up in Heliopolis. At the age of 17 she married Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, a pilot in the Egyptian Air Force.

When he became vice-president under Anwar al-Sadat in 1975, she began her studies at the renowned American University of Cairo, where she obtained a BA in political science and a MA in sociology.

“She was an average student, but she was hard working,” Saad el-Din Ibrahim, her professor in sociology, reminisces. “She used her maiden name. For an entire year I did not know who she really was.”

And by the time her husband was ready to take over the presidential seat in 1981, Suzanne Mubarak had groomed herself for her role. For the Western world, she represented the modern Arab woman, who did not wear a veil and spoke impeccable English.

She got involved in women’s rights, made great efforts to improve education and literacy, like the ‘Reading is for everyone’ project from 1991. But she did not stop there.

If Suzanne is vehemently hated today, she owes it to her involvement in politics. Profiting from her husband’s declining health, she allegedly expanded her zone of influence, advocating for her son to succeed her husband.

Nonetheless, the Mubaraks “lived modestly during their first ten years in power. They were deeply dedicated and hardworking, and they were not afraid to ask their entourage for advice,” Saad el-Din Ibrahim ascertains.

But as time went by, “they got more and more isolated from the world, within a social class that was cut-off from reality.”

In 2008, when sexual harassment was becoming increasingly common, the First Lady downplayed the problem. “Mrs Mubarak never walks alone in the streets of Cairo, except for when they have been cleaned of everything, including humans […] She and her family are living in an Egypt that is very different from the Egypt that we live in,” famous blogger Zeinoba wrote at the time.

February 11, 2011, Suzanne Mubarak was confronted with a sudden reality check. In his book Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak (in English), released on January 28 by Gilgamesh Publishing, former Head of Egypt News Centre, Abdel-Latif el-Menawy explains Suzanne’s life during her husband’s resignation.

According to el-Menawy, Suzanne was with her two sons in the helicopter that took them to Sharm el-Sheikh. But when the helicopter blades started spinning, she turned back, running to her villa.

The guards who went after her found sprawled on the floor and crying… around her were possessions and souvenirs of her entire life. She kept muttering over and over: “they [the revolutionaries] had a reason.”

The years of Suzanne Mubarak:

– February 28, 1941, Suzanne Thabet is born in Minya

1958: Marries Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, a pilot of the Egyptian Air Force. The couple will have two sons, Alaa and Gamal.

– Octobre 13, 1981, Hosni Mubarak becomes President of Egypt.

– February 11, 2011: Mubarak resigns as president.

– May 2011: After having been placed under house arrest on May 13, the ex-First Lady suffers from a heart condition.

– The former First lady is released on May 17, after having given up her villa and close to $4m in assets to the state.

*This article was previously published in French in our sister magazine Jeune Afrique, issue 2669.

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