New York Times
CAIRO — Hosni Mubarak looked like a stalwart American ally but worried for years that Washington was trying to oust him as president of Egypt, he confided to a doctor recently in surreptitiously recorded conversations that came to light here last week.
“How did the revolution start?” Mr. Mubarak mused about his ouster, in early 2011. “The Americans worked on it since 2005, and I had a feeling then.”
The conversations were recorded over a period of months this year and were authenticated over the weekend when the doctor, an ear, nose and throat specialist, was summoned to testify about them. They offer a rare, unadulterated taste of the former president’s attitudes about a host of subjects — Washington, Israel, his Arab neighbors, Jews, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s new military leaders and most of all himself.
For all the aid the United States gave Egypt during his 30 years in power, his comments suggest that Washington gained little sway over Mr. Mubarak. And he expressed nothing but pride in his rule despite the steady decline of Egypt’s economy and influence.
The Islamists who won power after his removal “blame ‘the former regime’ for everything,” Mr. Mubarak is heard complaining in one recording. Speaking of the Egyptian population, he said, “They lived — they were 43 million when I received them and 90 million when I handed them over.”
The recordings were released last week through the Web site of the newspaper Youm el-Saba, and quickly captivated Egyptians with details like Mr. Mubarak’s boasts of his heroism as a pilot in the 1973 war against Israel, and his shock at the high prices of groceries. “An egg is one pound?” he said in shock, joking, “So let’s eat potato sandwiches!”
Mr. Mubarak apparently did not foresee the ouster in July of his successor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. In a recording made in the spring, he was asked whether he thinks the military will act to stop the turmoil between Mr. Morsi’s opponents and his supporters; he responded, “What would they do?” He is heard guessing wrongly about Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of the military, saying he thought General Sisi supported Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies: “The defense minister, I think, is to their liking.”
He realized his mistake after General Sisi seized power. In a later recording, someone said the general had turned out not to be a Muslim Brotherhood supporter after all. Mr. Mubarak laughed wryly: “No, no, he turned out to be devious.”
The recordings suggest that Mr. Mubarak subscribes to some of the far-fetched conspiracy theories that are now commonly heard in Egypt, claiming collaboration among the United States, Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood. “Of course they’re in a deal with the Brotherhood, for Sinai,” Mr. Mubarak said of the Western powers in one recording.
At another point, Mr. Mubarak said that about six months before he was forced from office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “tested the waters” about a plan to displace the Palestinian population of Gaza into the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
“No, no,” Mr. Mubarak said he had replied. “Forget about it unless you want to start another war between you and us. The borders can’t be touched.”
But he is also heard saying he sometimes used Israel’s influence in Washington for his own purposes, perhaps alluding to the role that pro-Israeli lobbyists often played in securing American aid for their allies in Cairo. “I exploit the Israelis this way, and I stirred sedition” between Israel and the United States, Mr. Mubarak said. “I put them in confrontation with each other.”
At another point, Mr. Mubarak dismissed Mr. Morsi as overly reliant on Qatar, an oil-rich monarchy allied with the United States and supportive of the Brotherhood. “Qatar will bring American Jews” to Egypt, Mr. Mubarak said. “All will have American and Jewish passports, they will start projects and I don’t know what, and it will be worse.
He speculated that Jews might have played a role in a proposal to dam the Nile upstream from Egypt in Ethiopia, a major worry in Cairo. “The Jews work there,” Mr. Mubarak said. “Africa is full of Jews.” He said of a former chief of the International Monetary Fund, “He was a Jew, but skillful.”
Mr. Mubarak is also heard insisting that, in addition to conspiring with the United States, Mr. Morsi was collaborating with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the United States has labeled a terrorist organization. “They’re the ones who helped him during the revolution,” Mr. Mubarak said of Hamas.
He said in the recordings that American efforts to remove him began in 2005 when Washington pressed him to allow at least token rivals to run for president against him instead of holding a one-candidate plebiscite for another term in the office. He said that he had promised to “hand it over” in the next election, scheduled for 2011, but that the Americans had not trusted him.
He said “the Americans” were “liars.” He accused them of spreading false rumors that Mr. Mubarak might try to hand the presidency to his son Gamal, who had taken up a senior position in the ruling party and begun shaping Egyptian policy. “And people believed them!” Mr. Mubarak complained. “I told them, ‘People, we are a democratic regime!’ but to no avail. The media is stronger than us.”
Mr. Mubarak insisted that he stood up to “the Americans” at a confrontational meeting in December 2010. “I wouldn’t give them a base, or a port, or communications or anything,” Mr. Mubarak said, although there is no evidence that Washington made such requests. “They wanted to get me out of the way at any cost,” he added.
The next month, when the popular uprising against him began and President Obama called to urge him to step aside, he flatly refused, Mr. Mubarak said. “I said, ‘You know Americans better than I do, and I know Egyptians better than you do,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘I only do what the people want, not anybody else.’ ”
Mr. Mubarak is suing the doctor for recording him. Despite periodic reports that Mr. Mubarak, 85, is in failing health, he sounds hearty and high-spirited in the recordings, cheerfully joking and telling stories. He even offered some dietary advice. “Between you and me, meat is bad for you,” he told doctors, saying he ate red meat only once a month and preferred fish most of the time.
His former subjects, Mr. Mubarak complained, never appreciated his constant efforts to raise money from abroad to feed them, albeit without making structural changes that might have fostered self-sufficiency. “I broke my back for 30 years, building it and bringing in money,” he said. “And now they tell you: the president has $70 billion.”
He complained that investigators had asked his butler and office boy if the president sent bags of money abroad. “I never saw such moral degradation. I don’t lie. If I have it, I would say so.