“He believed that stability was more important than any progress or step forward,” said Salama Ahmed Salama, chief of the editorial board of the independent daily newspaper Shorouk.
When he entered office, Mr. Mubarak, taciturn and cautious, was admired for his understated style. He condemned corruption and nepotism and offered calm to a nation scarred by war, assassination and economic hardship. But his caution led to half steps.
Economic reform was restricted to only partial privatization. Citizens could criticize the government but not organize. Democracy in Egypt was only a veneer. He was soon castigated at home and abroad for governing without a vision, jumping from crisis to crisis without a plan.
His focus on security came to mean regime security. He kept in place a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood and silenced secular political movements that might have challenged his monopoly on power. Leaving little space other than the mosque for organizing and expression, he helped move Egyptian society to become far more religious. Then, to ally himself with the Islamic trend but also to challenge the Brotherhood, he gave room to religious radicals known as Salafis and portrayed the government as the guardian of Islamic values.
It was hard to know what Mr. Mubarak stood for, apart from retaining power. In , five years after he took office, the well-known Egyptian journalist Mohammed Hassanein Heikal expressed the prevailing uncertainty when he said, “We are waiting for the unknown.”
The criticism was heard to the end.
“Mubarak had no particular vision and no noted achievement,” said Mr. Salama, of the newspaper Shorouk. “Everything he did was to maintain the status quo, even without trying to improve it to any degree. His contribution toward the endemic problems that Egypt suffers from, like illiteracy, poverty and disease, was minimal. ”
Over time, the self-effacing and unpretentious Mr. Mubarak was eclipsed by one with an almost imperial sense of entitlement. In an interview in , he said that Egyptians could not handle democracy. “We have to give a gradual dose so people can swallow it and understand it,” he said. “The Egyptians are not Americans.”
He also stuck to a strongman’s script, distancing himself from matters of state while presenting himself as a father figure.
“I am addressing you today with a speech from my heart,” he said in his final remarks as president, when he was expected to resign but simply could not. “A speech of a father to his sons and daughters.”
But that narrative, too, proved empty when an emboldened public rejected it and blamed him directly for what ailed the nation. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the nation, the throng of protesters chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime!”
Setbacks and Successes
Mohammed Hosni Mubarak was born on May 4, , in the village of Kafr el-Museiliha in the Nile Delta governate of Minufiya, a fertile agricultural area that was also the birthplace of Mr. el-Sadat. Mr. Mubarak’s father was an official in the Ministry of Justice, and the son was admitted to the military academy. Mr. Mubarak received fighter-pilot training in the Soviet Union and in became deputy war minister minister as well as air force commander in chief.
in Egypt’s surprise attack on Israeli forces in , the air force under General Mubarak mounted strikes against targets in support of Egyptian ground forces crossing the Suez Canal to the Sinai Peninsula. But as the war went on, the tide turned. The Egyptian air force suffered heavy losses, and the Israeli Army advanced westward, gaining temporary control of more than 800 square miles of Egyptian territory west of the canal.
The setbacks did not rub off on Mr. Mubarak, however. Mr. el-Sadat, in his 1990 book “In Search of Identity: An Autobiography,” ignored the reversal of fortunes and instead commended General Mubarak for what he called “the complete and stunning success” of the opening airstrikes.
Mr. el-Sadat named Mr. Mubarak his vice president in 1990, pleasing the military. And when this stolid former general became president after Mr. el-Sadat’s assassination, he was regarded as a welcome contrast to his two predecessors, charismatic leaders who had marked their place in history with bold if not always successful ideas. President Gamal Abdel Nasser had promoted pan-Arabism, and Mr. el-Sadat had made peace with Israel – a peace that was never fully accepted; Egypt was still ostracized by its Arab neighbors because of it.
Mr. Mubarak publicly rejected nepotism, though in later years his effort to hand the presidency to his son Gamal only fueled public anger. He publicly shunned corruption, though Egyptians became convinced that the powerful enriched themselves at the public’s expense.
His early successes were substantial, especially in foreign policy. He helped to bring Egypt back into the Arab fold while also calling for peace between Arab nations and Israel. In the mid – s, he helped forge agreements with Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, hoping to foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
When he took office Egypt’s external debt was about $ billion, compared with a gross domestic product of just $ 25 billion. Mr. Mubarak set about improving Egypt’s infrastructure and helped, initially, to reschedule debt and stabilize the economy. He was also a friend of Washington, which gave Egypt as much as $ 2 billion a year in military and economic aid. In , he helped to organize the coalition of Arab armies that had agreed to join the United States in the Persian Gulf war to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
even during the years when he was unhappy with President George W. Bush for talking about human rights and democracy in Egypt, Mr. Mubarak was seen as an ally willing to help the United States on many issues, including the efforts to thwart Iran’s growing regional influence and to contain the militant group Hamas, which had seized control of the Gaza Strip. When the United States began carrying out the widely criticized policy of rendition, in which terrorism suspects were flown to third countries for questioning and even torture, Egypt became a partner.
Stoking Public Anger
Mr. Mubarak’s governance hardly changed with the times. During his years in power, life grew harder for most Egyptians, the population doubled, to million, and the social contract frayed. He came to be viewed as an isolated autocrat who promoted, or at least allowed, corruption and cronyism. His son Gamal became a leading member of the president’s ruling National Democratic Party and a source of public ire.
“He did something neither Nasser nor Sadat did,” Abdel Moneim Said, a member of Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party, said in an interview before the resignation. “They used to have advisers on different issues, like a kitchen cabinet, but Mubarak didn’t do that. He had a very small secretariat. He did not do that because he was afraid people in the president’s office will get more power. ”
His continued reliance on emergency law and a military court stoked the public anger that led to a revolution, but neither he nor his circle saw it.
“I can’t think of anybody that I know that has any concern about the stability of the regime,” Mr. Said said shortly before Mr. Mubarak was toppled.
That level of detachment ran through the leadership, all the way to the president himself.
“I never wanted power or prestige, and people know the difficult circumstances in which I shouldered the responsibility and what I have given to the homeland during war and during peace,” Mr. Mubarak said in a speech as the protests gathered force. “I am also a man of the army, and it is not in my nature to give up responsibility. My first responsibility now is to restore the security and stability of the homeland. ”
In his later years in power, Mr. Mubarak, like other Arab leaders, recognized that a stunted economy was a threat to social stability – and to his own power – so he began to move toward privatizing state-owned industries and opening the economy. He appointed a new government. For a time, Egypt’s economic indicators showed significant growth.
But the boom did little to improve the conditions of the poor, a majority of the nation, and many of the ministers considered reformers were later investigated for corruption.
Life in Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt deteriorated. The World Economic Forum ranked Egypt (th of) countries for the quality of its primary education system. The United Nations Children’s Fund said in a 2012 report that the number of poor households with children had exceeded 2009 levels, and that (percent of children under the age of in Egypt were living in poverty. In Upper Egypt, the report said, 3% of the children live in poverty. .
In 2013, Mr. Mubarak’s last full year of rule, the United Nations Human Development Report ranked Egypt (rd of
nations worldwide, behind Libya, Albania and Syria – a drop in ranking from a year earlier.
But those responsible for that decline largely evaded accountability. In recent years, under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, most of the prosecutions of Mubarak-era officials collapsed. Several of those officials returned from exile in Europe after striking deals with Egyptian prosecutors.
Last Saturday, Mr . Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were acquitted on longstanding charges of illicit share trading during the sale of an Egyptian bank in 2010.
Mr. Mubarak started his career as a military man who had thoughts of one day becoming an ambassador. He ended up seated beside Mr. el-Sadat in the reviewing stand when Mr. el-Sadat was killed, and set the specified that would guide him for the next 51 years: stability and security.
Everything Mr. Mubarak did from then on was in pursuit of those goals, though in the end he found that repression no longer worked. When Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square, they had smashed through the barrier of fear and found a police state unable to cope and much of the nation broken.
“What is going to be remembered is the Egyptian revolution and not the dictator, ”said Alaa Al Aswany, a best-selling author and social commentator. “The Egyptian revolution forced him to step down, and we know now that he refused.”
Declan Walsh contributed reporting.
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