Jerrold Post, a former psychological profiler with the CIA, says that contrary to belief people do not mellow with age, as is clear with Hosni Mubarak. The rejection of his authority, however, is likely leave the president 'bitter and hurt'.
Hosni Mubarak 'displaying all the hallmarks of an ageing autocrat'
BETHESDA, MARYLAND // He has made two brief public appearances in two weeks, firing his government in one and promising to retire in September in the other.
But Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has so far successfully resisted the demands of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters to resign immediately. He continues to cling to power with all his might and cunning.
In this, he is displaying all the hallmarks of an ageing autocrat, said Jerrold Post, the director of the political psychology programme at George Washington University and a former psychological profiler with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Contrary to popular opinion, "people don't mellow with age", said Mr Post on Friday from his home in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. "As a man grows older, he becomes more like himself."
And in Mr Mubarak's case, that means surviving. The Egyptian president, 82, has ruled Egypt for 30 years under emergency laws brought in after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Stability has been the watchword, both in foreign relations and at home.
Mr Mubarak has secured stability by using Egypt's vast security services to control dissent and by banning the Muslim Brotherhood, the only serious organised political rival to his regime.
Egypt has fought no wars and suffered no military defeats during his tenure. Mr Mubarak's government has observed his country's peace treaty with Israel, even when Israel fought in other Arab countries and throughout the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. For this he won plaudits internationally, especially in Washington, where stability remains one of the guiding priorities of US Middle East policy.
But stability has become stasis, Mr Post said. As poverty, unemployment and rising prices set a burgeoning youth population on a collision course with rigid and corrupt state structures, Mr Mubarak was unable to respond.
"At some point, people begin to lose their ability to be creative in response to new situations," said Mr Post, who has written extensively on the manner in which people behave at the end of their political lives. "At the same time there is this sense of urgency to accomplish your goals."
The founding director of the CIA's Centre for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behaviour, Mr Post played a leading role in developing profiles of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, the Egyptian and Israeli leaders who eventually signed a peace treaty in 1979. The successful negotiations at Camp David were partly a result of US mediation guided by those profiles.
After his retirement from the CIA, Mr Post testified before the US House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee in 1990 on the political personality profile of Saddam Hussein. He continues his studies of political leaders from around the world, and is currently writing on Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president.
He also served as an expert witness in the trials in 2001 of al Qa'eda members convicted of the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Mr Post now relies on mostly open-source material to draw up his profiles. During a 21-year service with the CIA, however, he would have been privy to a whole host of classified materials, from intelligence assessments to diplomatic cables, upon which to base his conclusions.
Such material, as well as his own interviews with subjects and prisoners, including terrorist suspects, and his own research efforts into the psychological anatomy of treason, helped him develop his own methodology for psychological profiling that includes assessments of childhood influences.
As an example, Mr Post cited the writings of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the second Egyptian president. Writing about a demonstration he had joined at the age of 12, Nasser said that while did not at the time know what the protest was for, "this was the life for me". That, said Mr Post, "set the stage for the young officers' revolution he led at 28."
Now a civilian, Mr Post is no longer cleared to access classified documents, including even some of his own previous work. But though he hasn't drawn up a specific profile of Mr Mubarak, the violence that erupted last week between pro and anti-government supporters in Cairo was evidence, he said, that Mr Mubarak had reverted to old methods.
"Once you are in this situation, you get more and more entrenched and there is this tendency to do what you did in the past, only more so. That characteristic, combined with what Mr Post described as a quintessential rebellion of youth against authority - more pronounced the more authoritarian a state - leaves little room for compromise.
"Youth's task is to overthrow parental authority," Mr Post said. "[And] when you see a controlling authority in your land, it provides a natural channel for the psychological evolution and revolution during adolescence and youth."
With the internet, Mr Post suggested, the age of closed societies is coming to an end, and young Egyptians, having seen the outcome in Tunisia, are unlikely to be swayed by anything less than Mr Mubarak's imminent departure.
Moreover, reports that Mr Mubarak and his family has amassed a fortune estimated at as much as US$70 billion (Dh247bn) during his tenure is likely only to inflame passions.
"There is something about youth in particular that is idealistic and will not tolerate flaws in their leadership. 'We want what we want, when we want it, and we want it now.' And that is part of the impatience we see there. September seems like an eternity."
The military has so far refused to open fire on protesters suggesting that Mr Mubarak, a military man, does not have full control over the army, Mr Post said.
That and the youthful rejection of his authority on the streets probably leave the Egyptian president "bitter and hurt". And Mr Post suggested that while providing Mr Mubarak with a "dignified exit" would be crucial to securing a peaceful transition, it seems unlikely.
"Are there steps he could take? Yes there are. However, it would mean looking in the mirror and being able to say, 'your time has come and gone' … That's the hope. Can he do it or not? That's the problem."