Mubarak's life and death

Mahmoud Aziz , Tuesday 25 Feb 2020

FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak attends a meeting with Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani at the presidential palace in Cairo December 11, 2010. REUTERS

Mohamed Hosni El-Sayed Mubarak was born to a poor family on 4 May 1928 in the small town of Kafr El-Mosileha in Menoufia in the Nile Delta. He would go on to serve as the president of Egypt for five consecutive terms, from October 1981 until his ouster by a popular uprising in February 2011.

The longest-serving president in Egypt's modern history, Mubarak's 30 years in office were controversially divided into support, criticism and fierce rejection by millions of Egyptians, which led in the end to his ouster amid mass protests.

Early life

Mubarak graduated from Egypt’s military academy in 1949, and graduated from aviation training a year later, joining the Egyptian air force.

He also studied in the Soviet Union at a number of military academies, returning to Egypt in 1964. After the Egyptian defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967, he led the armed forces’ aviation faculty until 1969, training a large number of pilots, and then becoming commander of the air force.

Much of Mubarak’s reputation as a strong military man stemmed from his role in the 1973 war with Israel, or the October War, when he led the first airstrike against Israeli forces on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal.

He left his military post of lieutenant general in 1975 when he was selected by President Anwar El-Sadat to become vice-president.

On 6 October 1981, Sadat was assassinated during a military parade marking the seventh anniversary of the war victory. Mubarak was right next to Sadat, but was unharmed.

Thirty-year rule

Holding office under an emergency law declared after the assassination of Sadat, he was officially sworn in on 14 October 1981 after a popular referendum.

Mubarak was re-elected by popular referendums for six-year terms in 1987, 1993 and 1999. In 2005, the constitution was changed to allow multi-candidate presidential elections for the first time since the declaration of the republic in 1953.

Throughout the early years of his regime, Mubarak gained popular support for combating Egypt's most pressing problems, including unemployment and a struggling economy following decades of wars with Israel and unclear destiny following the assassination of Sadat.

Like his predecessor, Mubarak moved closer to the US and away from Russia, becoming one of the US’s most stalwart allies in the Middle East.

Focusing on Egypt's internal and foreign problems and challenges during his first years of rule, Mubarak did not adopt a clear political ideology, but mostly adhered to the line of his assassinated predecessor.

Backed up by the West, one of Mubarak's political achievements was Egypt's return to the Arab League in 1989, as well as the regaining of the city of Taba, the last part of Sinai occupied by Israel, in 1989 by international arbitration.

Despite facing strong opposition for sticking to the peace agreement by some of Egyptian political forces, supporters of Mubarak praised the step as part of Egypt's foreign policy of maintaining stable relations and focusing on peace and development efforts, which helped the country to retain political and economic stability.

As his early years of rule during the 1990s, a number of major national infrastructure projects were carried out, including establishing Cairo's underground metro system, youth social housing projects, and the establishment of new cities in the desert, as well as more efforts to improve services and enhance health and education.

His internal policy faced obstacles in the form of the inherited challenges of high unemployment rates, corruption, increasing inflation, foreign debts, governmental bureaucracy and rapid population growth.

In 1990, Mubarak played a major role as a regional leader by backing up the international coalition against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Along with the US, the UK, France and Saudi Arabia, Egypt was one of the main military contributors to the largest military coalition formed since World War II. Billions of dollars of Egypt's debts were wiped out by the US and other international creditors after the war. 

One of the main challenges that faced Mubarak's rule politically and economically during the mid-1990s was a rising wave of terrorist attacks linked to extremist Islamists which targeted government officials, police, tourists and Egyptian Christians.

The former leader had himself survived an assassination attempt in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 1995, one of several attempts he would experience during his rule.

The terrorist insurgency's major impact was an attack in Luxor in November 1997 which left 62 people dead, the majority tourists. The attack took a damaging toll on tourism, a key pillar of the economy and source of foreign currency. 

Over the upcoming years into the early 2000s, Mubarak's attempted political reforms were criticised by opponents for being cosmetic, with the absence of a real democratic political life in Egypt and enforcing his National Democratic Party’s unipolar rule, as well as paving the way for the assumed succession of power by his unpopular younger son Gamal.

At the same time, the value of the Egyptian pound was sinking, the unemployment rate had increased due to a much-criticised privatisation plan. Public education also deteriorated, with a noticeable effect on the workforce.

For years, however, dissatisfaction was limited to closed party meetings, cafes, and elite seminars thanks to the restrictions of the state of emergency.

Signs of dissent

The first major signs of dissent directed against Mubarak himself were demonstrations in 2005, led by a movement called Kefaya (“Enough”) which called for his removal and denounced the assumed succession plan of his son Gamal.

Also in 2005, 34 constitutional articles were amended, drawing criticisms that the changes supported Mubarak’s desire to groom his son for power.

Under the changes, multi-candidate presidential elections were permitted, but with near-impossible qualifications for competing that allowed no real contenders to stand.

In 2008, large labour movements in the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahalla launched strikes and protests against Mubarak's rule, the first effective political and popular opposition movement on the ground against his rule.

The events started with a call for a general strike against the continuation of Mubarak in his post and against what were viewed as the attempts to groom Gamal to be his successor.

The beginning of the end for Mubarak's rule was in 2010, when the regime insisted on holding parliamentary elections with partial judicial supervision. The polls saw massive forgery in favour of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, and in response the opposition formed a symbolic parliament to voice dissent.

Ouster and conviction

The popular disenchantment led to the eruption of mass protests nationwide on 25 January 2011. The 18-day revolt, which saw the death of hundreds of peaceful protesters, culminated with Mubarak's stepping down on 11 February, relegating his power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Two months later, Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal were referred to trial along with a number of other key figures of his regime on charges including corruption and the murder of protesters.

In 2012, Mubarak was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder protesters during the uprising, but in 2017 he was acquitted in a retrial and allowed to walk free.

In 2015, he was sentenced in a separate case to three years in prison, along with his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, for embezzling public funds earmarked for the renovation of presidential palaces to upgrade family properties.

The decision was upheld by the highest court of appeals, marking the only final conviction against Mubarak in his many trials following his ouster.

In 2017, he was acquitted by Egypt’s highest appeals court of conspiring to kill protesters. He was released from Maadi military hospital and partially quit public life.

He died on 25 February, bringing down the curtain on one of modern Egypt's most controversial chapters.

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