By Samer al-Atrush / AFP
KAFR EL-MOSEILHA: When Hosni Mubarak, then an aloof young military officer, returned to his Nile Delta hometown to bury his mother he was so disliked, according to residents, he was told to find another burial site.
“They told him: ‘You have nothing left here’,” said Sabri Nabawi, a local school principal, giving a history lesson from behind his desk.
The story may be apocryphal, a sign of the changing tide that swept the veteran leader from power, but the residents of Kafr El-Moseilha insist they are as pleased as any other town in Egypt to see Mubarak fall.
Once a small village from where a young Mubarak would set out every morning to attend school several kilometers (miles) away, Kafr El-Moseilha is now a large neighborhood of the sprawling city of Shibin El-Kom.
A picture of a youthful, smiling Mubarak on a sign pointing the way to the school named after him has been defaced.
Close by, someone has scrawled on a wall, “Islam is the solution” — the motto of Mubarak’s foes in the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement.
But Kafr El-Moseilha’s residents say their grievances are not religious.
“This village is a slice of Egypt. All Egypt wants freedom. It all suffered the same,” Nabawi says.
The town, says Mohamed Al-Shirbani, an elementary school teacher, perhaps suffered even more because it boasted a large number of college graduates who could not find jobs.
“I won’t lie. Some here felt sadness to see him leave the way they did. They think his dignity was part of theirs. But the youth, they didn’t think: ‘Oh, he’s from here’. They were only thinking of freedom,” Al-Shirbani says.
Mubarak, born in 1928, left the village to go to military academy, from where he ascended to become air force chief and finally president. He would never return to visit, the residents complain.
“He never identified with the village, he had no roots here,” Shirbani says.
The closest Mubarak came to visiting since he became president in 1981 was when he announced from Shibin El-Kom in 2005 that he would run for another term. He went to his old school, but stayed clear of Kafr El-Moseilha.
Residents say the Mubarak was cold, imposing, like the large fresco of the veteran president that decorates the Hosni Mubarak youth club, next to the Hosni Mubarak school, not far from Hosni Mubarak Street.
“Mubarak always dealt with life like a pilot — always up in the air and distant from the people below. This wouldn’t have happened to him if he weren’t so distant,” Nabawi says.
When it came to fealty to his hometown, Mubarak was very different from his predecessor Anwar Sadat, who built a villa in his and visited regularly.
Some claim that Mubarak, always seen more as a lackluster manager than as a charismatic president such as President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sadat, avoided his town because he hated patronage.
“Mubarak didn’t like to flatter. As a person, I think he hated corruption, the corruption came with the new generation brought in over the past 10 years,” says Mustapha Al-Fiqi, a senator who had worked closely with Mubarak.
One of several Mubarak relatives still in the town, his second cousin the lawmaker Amin Mubarak, claims the leader was too busy to visit and hated doling out patronage because he “wanted to avoid corruption.”
“We are a respectable family. We never did anything wrong, and we have no thieves among us. We won’t have any problems,” he says.
But others dismiss the idea that Mubarak had too much integrity to help out the town, where many streets are still unpaved.
“Look what he did for his sons,” exclaims Emad Salah, a pharmacist down the road from the Mubarak school, suggesting that anyone who could have shamelessly enriched his family could also have done something for former neighbors.
Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, are widely believed to be rich, and many had expected the president to anoint Gamal as his successor.
Now that Mubarak has been deposed, residents say they always preferred another native son, Abdel Aziz Fahmy, an early 20th-century nationalist lawyer and a local landowner.
“A woman once came to Fahmy and told him, ‘I’m desperate, I have nothing.’ But she had a donkey, so Fahmy contracted it to the post office. Mubarak never identified with us,” says Al-Shirbani.