The dictator is riding out his resignation in his seaside retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh, but Egyptians won’t let him stay long. From Saudi Arabia to Britain to even Israel, Stephen Kinzer weighs Mubarak’s options for exile. Plus, full coverage of the Egypt revolution.
As Hosni Mubarak’s resignation was announced on Friday, he was pondering the vicissitudes of fate at his seaside mansion in Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. It’s a sunny resort town, offering swanky casinos and discos, scuba diving, fine cocktails at the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, and tolerably good spare ribs at the Hard Rock Cafe. An extended stay might suit the fallen leader, and perhaps also boost the local economy, which has not recovered from terror attacks there that killed 88 people, mostly tourists, in 2005.
Living out his years beside the Red Sea, though, might not be an option for Mubarak. Egyptians seem a tad unhappy about aspects of his 30-year rule, including his looting of the national treasury. If the rule of law ever comes to Egypt—a mind-boggling prospect—Mubarak might find himself the object of pesky litigation. And if armed militants could cut down 88 people in Sharm el-Sheikh, might they not find a way to assassinate him too?
Maybe another choice would be wise. Mubarak is mulling his options. Many Egyptians, along with others around the world, are wondering where he will end up.
It would be undignified for Mubarak to wander the earth like the deposed Shah of Iran, who after his fall in 1979 became an itinerant billionaire, landing first in Egypt, where President Anwar Sadat warmly welcomed him, and then on to progressively less friendly receptions in Morocco, Mexico, the Bahamas, and the United States, before returning to Egypt, where he died. Mubarak needs to find a place that will allow him to live well without worrying about possible distractions like lawsuits, extradition demands, mob attacks, or assassins.
The logical haven would be Saudi Arabia, which last month opened its doors to the deposed Tunisian leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The al-Saud family has a record of offering refuge to colorful fugitives. The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin moved there after being overthrown in 1979 and stayed until his death 24 years later. Other guests have included the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, the spectacularly corrupt former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the pro-Nazi prime minister of Iraq, Rashid Aali al-Gaylani, who fled to Berlin after being forced from power in 1941, was received by Hitler, and moved to Saudi Arabia after Hitler’s defeat.
The Saudi option offers several advantages. Mubarak would be able to live among Saudi princes, many of whom are as corrupt as he is, and be safe from international arrest warrants. But Saudi Arabia is unpleasantly hot and can be boring. And there’s always the nightmare scenario—some would call it the dream scenario—that the al-Saud regime could fall, which would leave Mubarak dangerously exposed.
Other alternatives in the neighborhood include the United Arab Emirates, where Saddam Hussein once considered seeking refuge, and Libya, whose dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, has a natural sympathy with long-serving Arab tyrants and who denounced anti-Mubarak protesters soon after they took to the streets last month. Mubarak, however, might see Libya as no more appealing than Saudi Arabia: too isolated and too close to home.
The bloodthirsty Liberian leader Charles Taylor found temporary refuge in Nigeria, but the authorities there ultimately stopped protecting him. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier spent years in France, as have several notorious perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, but the French have been embarrassed by a recent barrage of stories about their intimate ties to Arab dictators. They denied asylum to Ben Ali, and accepting Mubarak would undoubtedly set off a new wave of stories about their unsavory role in North Africa, something President Nicolas Sarkozy would prefer to avoid.
A more likely choice is next-door Germany, where Mubarak has gone for medical treatment in the past. According to reports in the German press this week, President Obama has asked German leaders about their willingness to accept Mubarak, perhaps under the guise of an “extended health check.” German politicians have said the idea is being considered. Germany is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan countries and has plenty of castles. A potential problem is the legal system, which is known for stubbornly resisting political interference. It might be difficult for a German leader to promise Mubarak long-term security from prosecution or extradition.
Mubarak owns a six-floor Georgian manse in the Knightsbridge section of London. His wife, Suzanne, and son, Gamal, until recently his heir apparent, are reportedly there now. Suzanne Mubarak is half-British, holds a British passport, and has described herself as “comfortable in both cultures, in both languages, in both worlds.” Whether the large Egyptian community in London would be equally comfortable with the deposed tyrant, however, is less certain.
Where, then, to find a place that’s in Europe, but without too fastidious a legal system or a community of Egyptian exiles? One option is tiny Montenegro, where Gamal Mubarak has business interests, reportedly including large stakes in telecommunications and tourism companies. One of these companies is building a luxury complex on the gorgeous Lustica Peninsula, which juts out into the pristine Adriatic.
• The Hunt for Mubarak’s Billions• Full coverage of the Egypt revolutionWhen it was part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was a favorite destination for jet-setters like Sophia Loren, Princess Margaret, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor. Now it is a playground for Russian oligarchs, with the added attraction that the government offers citizenship to anyone who invests half a million Euros, the equivalent of about $675,000, in the country. Among the first to take advantage of the offer was the Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister of Thailand. He might make an agreeable companion for Mubarak as they spend their sunset years reflecting on what might have been.
What about the United States? It would seem a logical option, since Mubarak and American leaders have been licking each other’s boots for decades. But although the U.S. cheerily turned a blind eye to Mubarak’s sins while he was in power, its government is far from a reliable friend, as Mubarak has painfully learned. He could find himself in an American prison—maybe even the one in Butner, North Carolina, where he would make an ideal fourth for the trio of miscreants who have reportedly become best buddies there: financier Bernie Madoff, gangster Carmine Persico, and Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
Israel, in fact, is the most intriguing possibility of all. It may be the only place on earth where much of the population admires and is grateful to Mubarak. Sure, the United States paid him billions to support Israel, but no other Arab leader did so more faithfully or for so long. In Israel, Mubarak would be hailed as a hero, treated with enormous respect, and enjoy the protection of the world-class Mossad security apparatus. Perhaps he could advise the government on ways to keep Gaza under siege, or suggest ways to control unruly Arabs—a trick he managed for 30 years before the late unpleasantness. It would be a fitting capstone and epitaph for the Israel-Egypt partnership that began in 1979 and now appears to be collapsing—a partnership that helped Mubarak hold power for decades, and contributed mightily to the public outrage that ended his career so ignominiously this week.
Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent. His new book is Reset: Iran, Turkey and America's Future.