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Africa

Mubarak: from his long reign to his quick demise

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2012-06-20

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was driven out of power by a wave of anti-government protests last year, is in a coma, according to medical sources. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the rise and fall of the man who ruled Egypt for 30 years.

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak suffered a stroke that left him in a coma late on Tuesday, medical sources said. State media reported the former strongman was clinically dead, but later it was revealed he was on life support. Earlier the 84-year-old Mubarak had been transferred from his prison to a military hospital in Cairo.

Mubarak health started to deteriorate soon after he was sentenced to life behind bars on June 2 for suppressing a revolt in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January and February 2011, in which nearly 850 protesters were killed. On June 11, he suffered a heart attack.

Until he stepped down on February 11, 2011, Mubarak held an exclusive grip on Egyptian power for almost three decades. Before that date, two thirds of the country’s population had only lived under one president.

His last years in office were marked by growing opposition to his rule. For 30 years, conditions for the working class in Egypt failed to improve. In 2010, 44 percent of the population lived on less than two dollars a day. Accusations of fraud in the November 2010 legislative further damaged Mubarak’s public image.

Mubarak was unable to withstand eighteen days of unprecedented protests that began on January 25, 2011, during which hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo to call for his departure. Despite the violent crackdown, the protesters took over Tahrir Square, which became the centre of the anti-regime movement.

A rapid political rise

Mubarak studied to be a fighter pilot and, after earning his degree in 1950, rose through the military’s ranks until he was named air force commander in 1972. Under his supervision, Egypt’s air forces contributed significantly to the country’s early victories over Israel during the Kippur War in 1973. Mubarak was promoted to general shortly thereafter.

Mubarak was, at the time, eyeing a diplomatic post as his next professional step. But President Anwar el Sadat decided otherwise, naming him vice president in 1975. “Mubarak was the ideal right-hand man: disciplined, hardworking, loyal, and without great ambition or charisma,” journalist Hicham Kassem wrote for French daily newspaper Le Monde in 2005. “Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who met him around that time, thought he had a minor staff job, because he was so low-profile.”

For six years, Mubarak accompanied Sadat to meetings with foreign heads of state, both Arab and Western. Often, when Sadat was away, it was Mubarak who presided over cabinet meetings. One week after Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists in 1981, Mubarak became president. He was 53 years old.

Giving Egypt a diplomatic voice

In terms of diplomacy, Mubarak was considered by many to be an accomplished head of state, as he was able to increase Egypt’s presence on the international stage. “One of Mubarak’s fundamental manoeuvres was succeeding in rallying Arab countries to the Americans in 1990 during the first Gulf War,” said Jean-Noel Ferrié, a political scientist and author of a book on Egypt. “It was a masterful move.”

Though Egypt did not recover the status of leader of the Arab world that it enjoyed under Nasser (who was president from 1952 to 1970), it nevertheless become a key player in the region under Mubarak. Most notably, Egypt began playing a crucial role in issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mubarak took on the role of mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides from 2005.

But the trust that Arab countries once placed in Mubarak ultimately faded. During Israel’s raid of the Gaza Strip between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009, Egypt refused to completely open the Rafah Crossing, which lies along the Egypt-Gaza border. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the operation. “Mubarak continued Sadat’s policies of deferring to the US and Israel,” Ferrié said. “Today, Egypt no longer has the aura it had before. On the regional stage, it has let Iran and Turkey take its place.”

Moving toward authoritarian rule

At the beginning of his term, Mubarak’s domestic policies seemed to be more flexible than those of his predecessor. He notably ordered the release of 1,500 members of main opposition group Muslim Brotherhood who had been imprisoned under Sadat. The move backfired when the Islamic organisation, allied with the Wafd opposition party, won four parliamentary seats in 1984. Fearing the emergence of a widespread Islamist movement in Egypt, Mubarak tightened his grip, imposing a repressive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood from 1990 to 1997. During this period, 68 Islamists were executed and 15,000 imprisoned.

Over the course of his term, Mubarak’s power was bolstered by an extensive police force and a political system dominated by his own party. The result was an opposition that was all but silenced.

Mubarak was the only candidate in the presidential elections of 1987, 1993, and 1999, in which he got more than 95 percent of the votes. In 2005, however, faced with the growing dissatisfaction of the Egyptian people, he ordered the modification of the constitution so that multi-party elections could be held.

The overture proved to be a façade. For the election of that year, Mubarak’s party hand-picked the candidates to go up against the long-time president, who, unsurprisingly, came away with 88 percent of the votes.

Mubarak’s authoritarian tendencies ultimately provoked his fall from power. Eighteen days before his near-fatal stroke, he was judged complicit in fatal acts of violence committed against protesters in Tahrir Square.

His brush with death added a new element of uncertainty in Egypt, just as a potentially explosive fight opened over who will succeed him. Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, said Tuesday he won Egypt's June 16 and 17 presidential election, countering the Muslim Brotherhood's claim of victory for its candidate, Mohammed Morsi.

 

Date created : 2011-04-25

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