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Africa

Portrait: Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and his 30-year rule

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-03-31

It was a historic moment in Egypt's history - Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years as the country's president on Friday in the face of unprecedented street protests. We look back at his three decades in power.

In an unprecedented moment in the history of the Egyptian republic, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on state TV on Friday that Hosni Mubarak had decided to step down as Egypt’s president and hand power to the minister of defence and army chief, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Mubarak’s resignation comes after 18 days of nonstop demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in cities across Egypt.

The shift in power is a groundbreaking event in a country where more than 50 million people – nearly two-thirds of the population – have known only one head of state. 
 
First steps in politics
 
Mohammed Hosni Mubarak was born on May 4, 1928, to a wealthy family from the Nile Delta. He started his career in the Egyptian Air Force and quickly climbed the ladder to become deputy minister of defence in 1972. Following the Yom Kippur War with Israel in 1973, he was promoted to air chief marshal and two years later named vice president by then president Anwar Sadat.
 
Mubarak has been described as disciplined and hardworking, but without charm. He officially came to power after Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Known as the “rais”, or “chief” in Arabic, Mubarak’s reign lasted for the next 30 years.
 
Toward the beginning of his mandate, Mubarak’s policies seemed to be more open than those of his predecessor. He ordered the liberation of 1,500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, who had been imprisoned by Sadat.
 
But things soon took another turn and the new Egyptian president quashed plans for reform, fearing the upsurge of a fundamentalist movement. Between 1990 and 1997 the repression  reached a peak; 68 people were killed, another 15,000 thrown in jail.
 
A very personal idea of democracy
 
Cairo’s strongman relied on a fearsome police apparatus. His National Democratic Party held Egyptian politics – including the opposition – in a tight grip. Mubarak was the only candidate running in the 1987, 1993 and 1999 presidential elections all of which he won with more than 95% of the vote.
 
In 2005, at a time when the Egyptian people had begun to show the first signs of discontent, Mubarak had the constitution amended to pave way for multi-candidate elections. But the move did not stop Mubarak from winning the election yet again with more than 88% of the ballots.
 
Around the same time, the Egyptian leader launched a program, which aimed to open the Egyptian economy, with mixed results.
 
By 2011, 40% of the population still survived on less than US$ 2 day while corruption was pervasive at all levels of Egyptian society.
 
Egypt takes centre stage
 
Diplomatically, Mubarak fashioned his country into a moderate but central voice in the Arab world. A lynchpin in Africa and the Middle East, Egypt has for years been a reassuring partner to the Western world.
 
Egyptian has not been entirely free from terrorist attacks on its soil, but thanks to his regime’s remarkable political stability, Mubarak's mediation helped solve some of the worst regional crises, including several around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
But Mubarak had been losing his started losing his credibility across the Arab world. The final blow came during the Israeli raid on the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009, when Egypt refused to open the Rafah corridor to Palestinian territory and destroyed some of the tunnels through which the people of Gaza had received food, medicine and petrol, as well as weapons.
 
Those two decisions infuriated many Egyptians, who demonstrated in the streets of Cairo and in front of several Egyptian embassies throughout the Middle East.
 
Decline
 
Protest continued to brew on the domestic front. Launched in 2004, the Kifaya (“Enough”) opposition movement, which unites several opposition groups, organised demonstrations, in part to protest against the rising cost of living. 
 
The rapid ascension of Hosni Mubarak’s second son, Gamal, within the ranks of the ruling party left many people unhappy. They saw it as Mubarak’s attempt to organise his succession despite a presidential election being planned for September 2011, and accusations of fraud against the National Democratic Party flourished.
 
Galvanised by the Tunisian revolution that brought a final end to Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule in Tunisia after 23 years in January, Egyptians took to the streets. Late last month, thousands of anti-Mubarak supporters demonstrated in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez to ask that the 82-year-old president leave power.
 
Camped out in tents on Tahrir Cquare in the centre of the capital, demonstrators were joined by opposition figures and the Muslim Brotherhood. Fearing a repeat of the Tunisian experience, Mubarak made a few concessions.
 
In a TV address on February 1, the president announced that he would not run for a new mandate in the September election. A few days later, the ruling party leadership stepped down. Among them was the president’s son, Gamal.
 
But those concessions were not enough for the protesters who, despite threats of an army crackdown, continued defying his rule until Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11.
 
Days before that historic moment, a demonstrator told FRANCE 24’s correspondents in Cairo, “As long as the president stays, so do we.” Now he can finally go home.  
 
 

Date created : 2011-02-11

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