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Supreme Court Case #1: The People Vs. Hosni Mubarak

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Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak
Sean Gallup/Getty

Hosni Mubarak was the thuggish dictatorial leader of a Middle Eastern nation, the supplicating criminal stooge of five consecutive U.S. presidential administrations, and kind a creepy-looking dude with very prominent nostril hair. But was he also an asshole?

That was the first question sent to our new Supreme Court of Assholedom for consideration, and it wasn’t as easy a matter to decide as it may seem. Are all dictators assholes? The answer might seem obvious, but what if this dictator is an extension of your own country’s foreign policy? Is the difference between the generic dictatorial asshole and our dictatorial asshole qualitatively meaningful? If it is, how many points on the eternal Scale of Assholedom is that difference worth? Should Pinochets and Mubaraks really score lower than Pol Pots and Honeckers?

As Chief Justice of the Court, I struggled with this question, and so did many of the judges. In our deliberations we took votes on several issues raised by the justices, and in the process settled upon several basic precedents for the consideration of future cases. Those include:

  • By a vote of 8-1, the Court rejected the notion that “It is theoretically possible to torture people and not be at least a little bit of an asshole.” The single dissenting vote here was by Justice Drew Magary, who noted that “You can torture people and still not be an asshole. You forget the Jack Bauer Factor. Jack Bauer was a fucking badass.”
  • By a vote of 7-2, the court agreed that “Any leader/dictator who refers to himself in the third person in his speeches is automatically an asshole.” The original question to the court confined the question to dictators, but it was expanded to include all political leaders. This was a key issue in Justice Kreider’s opinion against Mubarak generally, as he cited Mubarak’s “telltale references to himself in the third person. He likes saying Hosni Mubarak.”
  • Thirdly, the Court by the perhaps surprisingly close vote of 6-3 rejected the notion, put forward by Justice Kourkounis, that “A person who aspires to be a president of a country, any country, is automatically an asshole.” Justice Sirota, who voted nay, explained his decision: “I cite Nelson Mandela as a non-asshole. Granted, the Mandela exemption is rare.”


Now, I didn’t want this to happen, but the Court’s first vote did turn out to be unanimous – by a vote of 9-0, we all ruled that Hosni Mubarak is, in fact, an asshole. But the quantitative results will probably be a bit surprising to readers, as Mubarak’s average Asshole Score, as voted by the judges, was just 6,959 points out of a maximum of 10,000 (for an explanation of the rating system, see here.

In my inexpert reading of the global landscape of Assholedom, I’d expect a score in the 6900s to be more representative of someone in the Jerry Falwell/Dick Fuld/Marge Schott range, and not the score of a brutally repressive Middle Eastern dictator known for pulling peoples’ eyes out and jamming hot pokers up orifices and that sort of thing. It should be pointed out that the relatively low scores were heavily skewed by Justice Mara Schmid’s 4500 (“He could always have been worse,” she wrote) and Justice Magary’s shockingly controversial and, frankly, selfish decision to rate Mubarak at the 100 level – a decision he defends on the grounds that “I personally appreciate not having to worry about Egypt in the news until just now, this very second.” It should be noted that I was going to make the same argument until I saw it had been taken already.

I gave Mubarak an 8200. Those 1800 points below the maximum assessment were a purely subjective calculation on my part, based on a general sense that there are others out there who are worse, and what scores are we going to give them, if Hosni Mubarak ends up in the mid-9000s? As Justice Whitmer pointed out, it’s not like Mubarak didn’t have his moments – like for instance when he publicly spoke out against the Iraq war, saying it would create “100 bin Ladens.” I was tempted to give him credit on that score as well, but then I read the Wikileaks cables about Mubarak and found out that a lot of his issues with the Iraq invasion had to do with his fear that it would strengthen Iran’s position (Mubarak was constantly wetting his drawers about Iran).

My other reason for giving Mubarak a relatively low score – relatively low given that he was an unapologetic serial torturer of hundreds if not thousands of innocent human beings – was this nagging chauvinistic feeling that the worst thing about Mubarak has always been that we Americans liked him. Maybe I’m in the wrong here, but when I read Hillary Clinton’s old quotes about her pal Hosni (“I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States”) I get this really grossed-out feeling inside, but the gross-out factor emanates powerfully from Hillary, not Mubarak. People who torture people suck, but people who drink Chardonnay and do photo ops with people who torture people suck even worse, I’m pretty sure.

It’s a tough call; Mubarak is clearly the more revolting and physically dangerous animal, but at least he’s more or less openly a pig, while his Western buddies with their false innocence and easy acceptance of brutal political expediencies are more intellectually offensive somehow. But even over and above the fact of his being a tool for American interests, Mubarak was a paranoid, self-involved douche who loved everything about himself, had literally no sense of humor at all, stole tens of billions or so from a country full of hungry people, and refused to accept the truth of even the most obvious kind of criticism, even when it was beating his door down on live international television. Overall, Justice Boylan probably put it best: “The hardly-shocking conclusion flowing from this precedent is that you can serve the needs of American foreign policy, and still be an asshole.”

We also voted on a few other issues connected to the Egypt mess – more on those later this week. In the interim, here are some of the opinions, all majority opinions of course, from the historic 9-0 ruling:

CASE: PEOPLE VS. HOSNI MUBARAK, DEPOSED DICTATOR OF EGYPT

RULING: ASSHOLE

POINTS: 6,959

Justice Jessica Kourkounis writes:
Mubarak is an asshole. Not because I actually know much about him as a ruler, but because he became president of a country and only an asshole would do that. I do give him some points off for jailing a civil servant in Egypt for three years for insulting him in a poem. I don't think one shouldn't be allowed to insult any president that one wants, but there's just no excuse for poetry in general. Poets are the worst. However, I'm doubling his points for being America's asshole. It makes him like one of those kids who never learns to stand up to the bully at school, and instead turns around and kills a pet or something. So, I'm gonna give the dude 9,878 points.


Justice Timothy Kreider writes:
It is entirely appropriate that we should begin our session by hearing the case of Everybody Who Knew Nothing About Egypt Before Last Week vs. Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak epitomizes, on a grand scale, the essence of assholedom. His political affiliation, whether it be Communist, Fascist, Secular or Theocratic, is irrelevant. The asshole always has only one agenda: Me vs. Everybody Else. Here we see an entire ancient nation on the brink of collapse, a people pitted against itself, battling with Paleolithic weapons in their capital city, because one guy won’t quit his job. The whole world is watching, and murmurs as one: What an Asshole.

Listen to his speeches, so full of Nixonian self-pity; notice how many times per speech he mentions his own name. The telltale references to himself in the third person. He likes saying Hosni Mubarak. It almost seems possible that he is dissociated enough to believe his own schizoid lies, as when he vows to punish those responsible for the violence. There was something grotesque about watching such a brutal-faced old gangster try to impersonate emotions like compassion, contrition, and fatherly concern. He believes himself to be indispensible--that without him the country will sink into chaos. In a sense, he’s like the rest of us who can’t accept that the world will go on without us just fine -- except that few of us are solipsistic enough that we're willing to watch the world crumble if it keeps us alive another hour.
In my personal scale, the upper 1,000-point range is reserved only for those whose assholery has destroyed or ruined large numbers of people’s lives—the Stalins, Pots, et al. Mubarak rates only the very bottom of this scale, not so much because his crimes were less than those of his higher-scoring colleagues but because, ultimately, he is elevated to the status of asshole only by his power. His delusional non-resignation speech of February 10th, in which he doggedly insisted he was not leaving and then immediately either fled or was forcibly escorted to his private resort/prison, exposed him as little more than a dick -- possibly even a fuckwad, with its connotation of obliviousness.  

My personal loathing for the American politicians and pundits who support such dictators is actually greater than the loathing I feel for the dictators themselves. Petty tyrants like Mubarak (and less petty ones, like Stalin) are pure sociopathic killing machines whose only agenda is themselves, the human equivalent of sharks or Ebola. Evil is just what they do. It’s altogether more distasteful to see people who know better, who profess to intellectually understand humane and democratic values, explaining coolly why, in this case, we have to make an exception and side with the secret police and stick-wielding thugs. In a very real sense, the non-assholes who enable assholes are more contemptible and worthy of our condemnation. These people are not true assholes; they’re something more like monsters.

But we cannot let our personal feelings dictate the creation of a body of law. Let’s keep things in perspective. Mubarak tortured and killed people and throttled a nation’s potential for 30 years; he’s an asshole. His American enablers ultimately just made speeches and wrote columns. I wish Mubarak a bitter and humiliating exile, or, better yet, a speedy trial. I wish his supporters long lives of wrongness and obsolescence.

Hosni Mubarak: Major Asshole.

Score: 9,001

Justice Mara Schmid writes:
I was a little torn on this.  He gets asshole points for not resigning when it's clearly what his people wanted, for allowing/permitting/encouraging an oppressive regime and abusive police force, and for having used his military career to amass a ridiculous personal fortune (estimated at $40-70 billion).  On the other hand, he could always have been worse, he's shown some constraint in his interactions with other nations, and he was handed a free pass as well as a lot of money by the US.  So he's a moderate asshole, but at least he's not a raging psychopath.  (My standards for heads of state these days are relatively low.)

Verdict: Moderate Asshole.

Score: 4500 points

Justice Adam Whitmer writes:
Obviously Hosni Mubarak, or as I am sure he prefers to be called, “Parade magazine's 20th Worst Dictator Hosni Mubarak,” couldn't be THAT bad of a guy. If he was, how could he have won all of his elections in landslide victories?

In 1990 Mubarak supported the invasion of Iraq, sending his military for support so that he could free up $14 billion of his debt ... making him just another president accused of not only torture, but also sending his country to war based mostly on monetary reasons. That could never happen in a freedom and God-loving loving democracy like this one, right? Hey, at least our torture only left them wet, terrified, in a naked pyramid, and really really tired. So as much as I wanted to give him a bigger score for all of the torture and lining his pockets with our money so that he could be a half-assed "asset" in the Middle East, I lightened it up a bit mostly because he spoke out against the Iraq War because he said it would create "100 Bin Ladens."

Rating: 7500 points.

Justice David Sirota writes:
Though this is the court's first case, it is important to root as much as we can in case law and precedent - which for this project, means Chief Justice Taibbi's charter blog post creating this panel. As you can see, in the Chief Justice's founding Asshole Index, Madame Tussaud wax figure George Will is ranked a 5000, while Serial Torturer/Murderer/Silence of the Lambs character Gary Heidnik is a 10,000. While one could certainly make a strong case that dictator Hosni Mubarak, with his record of repression, torture and violence, is the potentate equivalent of Heidnik, he doesn't deserve that full distinction, if only because he is more of a functionary than an independent actor a la the Philadelphia maniac. That is to say, he is a major asshole, but he is an asshole's asshole - in specific, the U.S. foreign policy establishment's asshole. 

This is a man who has basically been a CIA agent for 3 decades - a man who Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently called "a friend of my family." Clinton called him this at the very same time her own State Department cited Mubarak's regime for, among other Heidnik-like infractions, "arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life," and "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." In short, Mubarak is but one asshole in the U.S. government's larger network of asshole dictators.

The point here is not to absolve Mubarak - it is only to make clear that he is less a singularly self-directed Heidnik-like asshole than Egypt's public face of a larger U.S.-financed assholeocracy. That doesn't automatically make him less of a natural asshole, of course - after all, if in an alternate universe he wasn't a U.S.-owned-and-operated asshole, he might end up being a total full-on Heidnik. But it does mean that for purposes of rendering a judgment on what we know about him in this universe, he is slightly less of an asshole than Heidnik, if only because he is but one part of a larger conspiracy rationalizing, justifying and encouraging his assholery.

Score: 9000 points.

Justice Drew Magary writes:
Mubarak is an asshole because you don't become an all-powerful autocrat without being a huge prick.  That's just the way things work.  But I think he's a very light asshole - call it a 100 - and the reasons why are these.  First, he survived 6 assassination attempts, which is kind of cool. Second, I personally appreciate not having to worry about Egypt in the news until just now, this very second.  Sadat was killed when I was a small child, so I've always thought of Egypt (NOTE: All assumptions based in complete ignorance) as one of the less insane Middle East countries in my lifetime, a place where you could visit without worrying about shit blowing up randomly. And that was a real feather in their cap, as far as I'm concerned. And his timing for this uprising has been pretty good. Frankly, it's kind of nice to turn on the news now and see a NEW Middle East country falling into dogshit, instead of the usual suspects. It gave me something cool to look at in between NFL playoff weekends. And I have that dude to thank for it.  No way he belongs lumped in with Kim Jong Il and the like.

As you can see, I'm really well-versed in global affairs. I have an Egyptian friend. He's fucking crazy.

Justice Jenny Boylan writes:
It would seem to me that the fundamental issue in this case is not whether or not Mubarak is an asshole (you generally don't get to lead a country unless you already are one).  The question is,  can a person be "an asshole with an explanation?"  In this particular case,  the court has to weigh the good one might have done (been a force of stability and peace in the most volatile place on Earth) on the one hand, against the bad  (being like, you know, a dictator) on the other.  

The phrase "he's our asshole" was coined, in slightly cleaned-up form, to FDR.  Referring to the dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, Roosevelt is said to have remarked, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." 

The hardly-shocking conclusion flowing from this precedent is that you can serve the needs of American foreign policy, and still be an asshole.  

My ruling:  asshole, I give him a 7500 out of 10,000.  

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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