Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dies

Long-time leader given a full-honours military funeral and eulogised as a war hero.
Wednesday 26/02/2020
A helicopter lands outside Cairo's Mosheer Tantawy mosque in the eastern outskirts of the Egyptian capital before the funeral of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak on February 26. (AFP)
A helicopter lands outside Cairo's Mosheer Tantawy mosque in the eastern outskirts of the Egyptian capital before the funeral of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak on February 26. (AFP)

CAIRO - Hosni Mubarak, who served as Egypt’s president for 30 years before being deposed in 2011, has died. He was 91.

He was given a full-honours military funeral and eulogised as a war hero.

State television said Mubarak suffered complications after surgery in January. His death at a Cairo military hospital was announced February 25. An Egyptian presidency statement called Mubarak a “military leader and war hero” and offered condolences to his family, including wife Suzanne, whom he married in 1959, and sons Alaa and Gamal.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led Mubarak's funeral February 26, along with the top commanders of the army, and Mubarak's sons. Thousands of Egyptians attended the full-honours military funeral in the Fifth Settlement, a sprawling urban community on the outskirts of Cairo.

“Through his military and political career, Mubarak made undeniable achievements and sacrifices,” the state-run al-Ahram newspaper said in an editorial.

Mubarak was born May 4, 1928, in Kafr el-Meselha and earned a commission from Egypt’s Air Force Academy in 1950. He served in various capacities until 1972 when he was made commander of the air force and deputy minister of defence.

On October 1973, the Egyptian Air Force scored a major victory over Israeli forces, for which Mubarak was considered a national hero. In April 1975, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat appointed Mubarak vice-president.

Mubarak became Egypt’s fourth president on October 14, 1981, after the assassination of Sadat, who was killed for having signed a peace treaty with Israel. Many Arabs considered Sadat a traitor to the Palestinian and Arab causes because of the peace deal and Egypt was facing an economic crisis and cut off from much of the Arab world.

Mubarak designed policies to return Egypt to the Arab fold, preserve peace with Israel and fix the Egyptian economy. He initiated economic reforms, started massive infrastructure projects, constructed urban communities and liberated an inhibited private sector.

"Those moves put the economy back on track and achieved considerable social stability," said economist Rashad Abdo. "This had a positive effect on the former president's popularity among the people."

Mubarak improved Egypt's relations with other Arab countries; offering support to Iraq in its war with Iran and was instrumental in the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991.

"Those efforts succeeded in renewing Arab confidence in Egypt," said Jihad Auda, a political science professor at Helwan University. "He was instrumental in bringing the Arabs back together and rescuing Arab unity from the rifts caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait."

The moves placed Egypt at the centre of Arab politics, which led to economic assistance from oil-rich Arab countries and made Mubarak into a key figure in regional politics, especially for Western capitals that viewed him as a factor of stability in the Middle East.

Mubarak was an effective mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis and enjoyed credibility in Tel Aviv, Washington and Ramallah; however, his record at home was not unblemished.

Economic reforms he introduced were sullied by unprecedented corruption. As many public sector companies were privatised, economic activities became concentrated in a small group of business tycoons, many directly connected to Mubarak and his sons.

The Egyptian economy overall performed well but there was no trickledown effect as reforms mostly benefited the rich at the expense of the poor.

"There was an unblessed marriage between money and power, opening the door for massive corruption," said Nadia Helmy, a political science professor at Beni Suef University. "This corruption caused Mubarak's popularity to corrode, opening the door for his inevitable downfall later."

Public anger against Mubarak mounted as a result of the monopoly he and his family exercised in Egypt's political life for nearly three decades. In 2005, Mubarak changed the Egyptian Constitution to allow competitive presidential elections. However, the 2005 elections were essentially a farce and Mubarak's only serious rival in the vote, Ayman Nour, was jailed on charges of fabricating party documents.

Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party tried to control Egypt's political life exclusively, leaving no room for political contenders. The party turned into a gathering place for the country's business moguls and monopolists who curried favour with Mubarak's younger son, Gamal, the head of the political bureau of the party.

Gamal Mubarak's increasing role in the party and growing influence in Egypt's political life spawned rumours about plans to appoint him as a political heir. The prospect was resented by the Egyptian military and large sectors of the public.

Adding to the dissatisfaction of Egyptians, especially elites, were shrinking political and public freedoms. Mubarak gave police a free hand in crushing expressions of dissent and engaging in brutal crackdowns, turning Egypt into a virtual police state.

Public anger led to the protests that grew into the 2011 uprising against Mubarak on January 25, National Police Day. Millions of people descended on the streets to demand that Mubarak step down.

The "Arab spring" uprisings had started in Tunisia a few weeks earlier but Egypt's protests showed an irreversible yearning for change. Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011, and handed power to the army council.

In June 2012, Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of hundreds of demonstrators during the 2011 uprising. He was also tried on various counts of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. However, he was cleared of most of the charges in 2014 and left prison.

Egyptians have mixed interpretations of Mubarak’s legacy. He will be remembered for crushing political opposition, allowing corruption to metastasise and monopolising Egypt's politics for 30 years.

"Still, everybody will remember him for making his country stable and holding it together for a long time," said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. "Even after stepping down, he entrusted the army with Egypt's rule and refused to escape to another country, even though he could have done so."