Sins of the Father

Don't underestimate the power or importance of the Hosni Mubarak trial.

Accompanying the screenplay of his highly successful film Romulus My Father, starring Hollywood heartthrob Eric Bana, is an essay by Melbourne philosopher Raimond Gaita where he explains why he even wrote the story detailing the hardships of growing up with a damaged yet stoic man:

There is no single reason why I wrote Romulus, but I wrote it partly because I wanted to bear witness to, rather than merely record, or even celebrate, the values that defined my father's moral identity...I am certain that the way people have been moved by it is inseparable from the fact that they believe it to be entirely without fabrication.

Gaita's words are searing in the context of watching, and simultaneously tweeting during, the live coverage of the House of Commons questioning of another Australian father and son - Rupert and James Murdoch - over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. More viscerally for me however was watching, alongside my Egyptian flatmate who was in Tahrir Square earlier this year, the Mubarak boys, carrying Qurans, clad in white gowns, and shielding their decrepit father Hosni Mubarak as he lay on a hospital bed behind bars. It was truly a historical moment - and relayed live to the other side of the world. The burdens of bearing the fathers' sins and vice versa were apparent in both of these media spectacles.

Many western commentators have pointed to the patriarchal politics that is at the heart of Arab despotism where governance is passed around like a gerontological baton from father to son - Syria, Jordan, Morocco & Libya. The leading foreign correspondent, Robert Fisk, makes this connection too. He opens, in article a couple of weeks ago, with a description of Rupert Murdoch as "a caliph, I suppose, almost of the Middle Eastern variety. You hear all these awful things about Arab dictators and then, when you meet them, they are charm itself."

But even Fisk, in his articles, has occasionally lapsed into an almost casual orientalism that solidifies the image of the Arab leader as a demi-God or a father figure to his rebellious children - that is, the citizenry - who do not know their own political good; one who is invariably western educated and returns to run the family business of autocracy with an orientalist disdain for his country's trivial problems of not having basic services and freedoms provided.

More recently Thomas Friedman, the self-proclaimed expert on the Middle East, asks: "That is, once these regimes are shucked off, can the different Arab communities come together as citizens and write social contracts for how to live together without iron-fisted dictators...?" Friedman still sees democracy, and the unprecedented trial of a corrupt dictator, with due process, as intrinsically outside of the Arabs' political DNA.

What Fisk & Friedman, unfortunately albeit in different ways, are unable to recognize is the chaos of multiple technological, political, social, economic, religious and, most of all, age dynamics and split loyalties currently at play in the so-called Arab street, where there has been a lot of gains and there are still more to come.

What is being witnessed not just in Tahrir Square but in other regional towns across Egypt and the Arab world are the organic operations and intricate mechanics of more than just an Arab spring or summer. Mubarak's trial is a reminder to the other Arab autocratic governments, and to the western governments who prop them up, not to peddle in false dreams of freedom that disillusioned our fathers in previous decades.

Farid Y. Farid is a doctoral candidate and freelance writer based at the University of Western Sydney






Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.