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February: A Month for Egyptian Surprises | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – February has always been a month that has been full of surprises in the life of Hosni Mubarak, not least February 2011 which saw him step down from power after ruling the country for more than 30 years, in response to ongoing demonstrations against him and his regime. February represents the beginning and the end for the now-former Egyptian president, as this month saw the beginning of his service for his country, and is today witnessing its end. In 1949, then student, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, was in his final year at the Military Academy, dreaming of graduation, and it was in February of that year that he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (2nd class), beginning a life-long relationship with the military and serving the state, which has only ended this week.

After graduating from the Military Academy, Mubarak immediately joined the Air Force Academy, graduating as a fighter pilot and serving as an Egyptian Air Force instructor. In February 1959 he left Egypt, receiving further pilot training in the Soviet Union, before once more returning to his homeland.

In February 1974, after previously being promoted to the rank of Commander of the Air Force, Mubarak was granted the title of Air Chief Marshall, in recognition of his service during the 1973 October War [Yom Kippur War]. Just over a year later, Mubarak lay down his military uniform after being appointed Egyptian Vice President by then President Sadat.

In hindsight, it seems that February has been a month that has continuously troubled the now-former president; on 25 February 1986 the world awoke to news of some 17,000 conscripts of the Egyptian Central Security Force staging violent protests in and around Cairo. These violent protests lasted for around 3 days and saw clashes between the conscripts and the army. This was the first time in Mubarak’s presidency that he instituted a curfew, or called on the Egyptian army to intervene and restore civilian order.

February has been a particularly difficult and trying month for Mubarak in the new millennium: 20 February 2002 was an extremely trying day not just for President Mubarak, but indeed for all of Egypt, with a passenger train travelling from Cairo to Luxor catching fire and causing the deaths of some 383 passengers. 3 February 2002 saw the sinking of the MS Al-Salam Boccaccio 98 that was en route from Duba, Saudi Arabia, to Safage, Egypt. The ship was carrying around 1,300 passengers, and had a crew of around 100, however only approximately 388 people were rescued. February 2009 also saw a number of terrorist attacks in Cairo, including a bombing in the Khan el-Khalil souq, resulting in the death of a French tourist.

Finally, of course, February of this year has seen an unprecedented alliance being formed between all the Egyptian [political] oppositional forces against Mubarak and his regime, which finally ended with the announcement of his resignation. If the youth revolution can be said to have begun on 25 January 2011, otherwise known as Egypt’s “Day of Rage”, this revolution can trace its genesis back to February 2003 and an anti-Mubarak Facebook campaign. This was also influenced, or perhaps even incited by the popular sentiment against the imprisonment of Egyptian anti-Mubarak blogger Kareem Amer, who was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment by a military court, on 22 February 2007.

With the current ambiguity surrounding the next phase of Egyptian politics, and in particular with regards to who will succeed Mubarak in power, let us look at some of the contenders, and particularly figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, Dr. Ahmed Zewail, or perhaps even somebody from within the Muslim Brotherhood. As for ElBaradei, we must say that he returned to Egypt on 19 February 2010, following the end of his term as Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Whist Ayman Nour, who was Mubarak’s main challenger at the 2005 presidential elections, and who was imprisoned in that same year on charges of forging powers of attorney [which secured the formation of his political party], his release came on 18 February 2009. As for Dr. Ahmed Zewail, the famed Egyptian scientist who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and who was named US Science Envoy to the Islamic word, he was born on 26 February 1946. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, there claim to this month can be found in the fact that the group’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, was assassinated on 12 February 1949 under extremely mysterious circumstances.

As for the political scene, February has always been strongly associated with the leaders and rulers of Egypt in one form or another, with Egyptian leader Mustafa Kaml Pasha dying on 10 February 1908 at the tender age of 34, although he had a huge impact on Egyptian politics, including being responsible for founding the Egyptian National Party, a precursor to Mubarak’s own National Democratic Party. King Fuad I of Egypt also gave his famous speech on 28 February 1922 which resulted in Egypt being granted nominal independence from the United Kingdom, whilst his son, King Farouk I, the last king of Egypt, was born on 11 February 1920.

Egypt’s first president following the revolution, General Mohamed Naguib, was forced from power in February 1954, although this time by his successor and main architect of the revolution, Gamal Abdul-Nasser, rather than by public and international pressure. Naguib was kept under house arrest until his death. However the month of February did not seem to have the tragic connotations with Nasser that it did with his predecessors, indeed on 22 February 1959 Nasser announced the union between Egypt and Syria known as the United Arab Republic, however this union only lasted for 3 years.

The month of February is the shortest month of the year but perhaps the longest for presidents of Egypt. With the announcement of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, February has witnessed another historic event, but the month isn’t yet over!