Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, aged 82, stepped down from power on Thursday, with the country now being governed by a military council that has pledged to act as a caretaker government until rule can be handed over to a civilian government.
Mubarak was in power for 30 years, making him the longest serving Egyptian leader since Muhammad Ali Pasha took power in 1805. Before he stepped down, Mubarak was also the fourth-longest serving Arab leader, after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman, and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency of Egypt on 14 October 1981, becoming the 4th president of Egypt since the Free Officers revolution in 1952, following in the footsteps of Muhammad Naguib, Gamal Abdul Nasser, and Anwar Sadat. During his term in office, President Mubarak pursued policies that aimed to guarantee security and stability in Egypt, particularly with regards to the country’s economy, military, and political arena.
Muhammad Hosni Sayed Mubarak was born on 4 May 1298 in the small village of Kafr El-Meselha, in the Egyptian province of Menoufiya in the Nile Delta region. He was said to be a diligent student, receiving good grades in primary and secondary school. He later entered the Egyptian Military Academy, graduating in February 1949 with a Bachelor’s degree in military sciences. He then entered the Air Force Academy as a Lieutenant (2nd class) at a time that both the country and the region was witnessing great upheaval, not least the Arab – Israeli war.
Mubarak graduated from the Air Force Academy on 12 March 1950 as a pilot, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in aviation sciences at a time that Egypt was witnessing great political turmoil, particularly with regards to anti-British feeling in the country, as well as the differences and division between the Egyptian monarchy on one hand, and the Egyptian parliament, particularly the Wafd party, on the other.
Mubarak was appointed a military pilot upon his graduation, and served in the Air Forces stationed in El-Arish. In 1951, he was transferred to Helwan Air Base where he received training on fighter jets. It was whilst Mubarak was stationed here that the Egyptian revolution took place, on 23 July 1952. History does not say that Mubarak played any role in this revolution, and he remained stationed at Helwan Air Base until 1953 when he returned to the Air Force Academy as a pilot instructor. Mubarak rose to be second-in-command, and later wing commander, at the academy, remaining there until 1959. During this period, Mubarak took part in the Suez Crisis – known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression – which saw British, French, and Israeli forces attacking Egypt following President Nasser’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal.
Mubarak was also given the opportunity to hone his military and pilot skills abroad, and was sent to study in the former Soviet Union, studying at the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow between 1964 and 1965, gaining experience piloting aircrafts such as the Ilyushin II-28 jet bomber and the Tupolev Tu-16 strategic bomber. By the time the Six Day War began on 5 June 1967, Mubarak was the base commander of the Beni Suef Air Base in Upper Egypt. After Egypt’s defeat, known in Arabic as the Neksa or setback, he was appointed the Commander of the Air Force Academy in November 1967, being promoted to the rank of General.
The following period saw the death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and his vice president Anwar Sadat coming to power. During this period Egypt was preparing a war to regain the lost Sinai Peninsula from Israel, eventually reclaiming this in 1973 following the Yom Kippur War. Mubarak had been appointed Commander of the Egyptian Air Forces in 1972 – in addition to deputy defense minister – and he has been credited with playing an important role in the October 1973 war, which is considered to be an Egyptian victory. Mubarak is said to have master-minded Egypt’s surprise attack, which saw more than 200 Egyptian aircraft conducting simultaneous attacks against Israeli targets. Mubarak’s fame rose considerably following the 1973 war; he was promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshall in 1974 in recognition for his service and he was also singled out in parliament by President Sadat for praise. On 15 April 1975, President Sadat appointed him his vice president, and he remained in this post until Sadat’s death in 1981.
Some observers have claimed hat Hosni Mubarak did not expect to be appointed Egyptian Vice President by Anwar Sadat, and that his ambitions did not go higher than the position of Egyptian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. This is something that was indeed later confirmed by President Mubarak himself, who has acknowledged that he did not have presidential ambitions at that time.
Following Sadat’s appointment of Mubarak, the then-Egyptian president experienced a number of difficult years with regards to opposition to his policies, both political and economic, most prominently with regards to his vision of peace with Israel. This led to the majority of Arab states cutting off ties with Sadat’s regime. It was also during this period that Sadat announced the formation of his own political party, the National Democratic Party [NDP], in 1978. The NDP had been Egypt’s ruling party from 1978 until February 2011.
During Mubarak’s period as Egyptian Vice President, he played an important role in improving Egypt’s relations with a number of foreign countries, carrying out many foreign diplomatic visits to strengthen bilateral ties with Egypt, most importantly with a number of Arab states. On 26 March 1979, following the Camp David Accords a year earlier, President Sadat signed the Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He – along with Begin – was awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
On 6 October 1981, Vice President Mubarak was sitting next to President Sadat observing the annual military victory parade to celebrate Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal [in the 1973 war] when Sadat was stuck and killed by an assassin’s bullet in retaliation for his signing a peace agreement with Israel. Mubarak was also injured in this attack, and he later succeeded Sadat as president according to Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution, being sworn in on 14 October 1981.
At the time, the newly appointed President Mubarak said that he would not stay in power for more than 2 terms in office, with each Egyptian presidential term lasting for 6 years. However Mubarak remained in power for 6 terms, winning consecutive presidential elections in 1987, 1993, 1999, and 2005.
Egypt has remained under emergency law – whose removal was one of the Egyptian demonstrators’ key demands – since 1981. In the beginning, this was enforced to deal with the aftermath of Sadat’s assassination, bringing to justice the Islamist groups responsible for his killing. Later, President Mubarak argued that this law was necessary to combat Islamist terrorism, for a number of such terrorist attacks have occurred throughout Mubarak’s presidency.
Mubarak has always followed a pragmatic approach with regards to his politics, particularly regarding his foreign policy. Mubarak’s era saw Egypt repair, and indeed strengthen, all its foreign relations with Arab and international countries. Egypt returned to the Arab League in 1989, with its headquarters returning to Cairo once more. Mubarak also played a large role in Middle Eastern affairs, from continuing Anwar Sadat’s path to peace with Israel, overseeing the continuation of Israel’s withdrawal from the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula, as well as securing the return of the disputed Egyptian city of Taba in 1989. Mubarak also played a huge role with regards to the Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, trying to ensure peace and stability. He also spoke out against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
As for his internal politics, Mubarak began his presidency with a number of political reforms, ordering the release of political prisoners, and also increasing freedoms of the press. The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights was also established during Mubarak’s era, and this represents the first human rights organization of its kind in Egypt. However Mubarak faced increasingly sharp criticism in recent years over the government’s attempts to control the political scene in Egypt, as well as widespread accusations of vote-tampering. Opposition figures have also accused the Egyptian government of implementing constitutional amendments that aim to ensure that the National Democratic Party remained in power after Mubarak.
Economically, many believe that Mubarak failed to achieve the promised stability and development, and the Egyptian economy is currently in dire straits, particularly after Mubarak – in a highly controversial move – privatized a number of industries. Egypt is also experiencing high unemployment, particularly due to the country’s high birth rates. However in spite of all of this, Egypt – under Mubarak – saw huge foreign investments.
During his presidency, Mubarak was subject to a number of assassination attempts, including an attempt allegedly by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement whilst he was visiting the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 1995.
As for his private life, Mubarak is married to Suzanne Mubarak; they have two sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak.
Mubarak’s 30 year reign ended earlier this week following mounting pressure from protests and demonstrations across Egypt. Mubarak had announced that he would not be standing for re-election later this year, before later making even greater concessions, handing power to his newly appointed vice-president Omar Suleiman, but in light of the ongoing demonstrations, his position was untenable, and he announced his resignation on Friday 11 February 2011.
In his final speech as president, Mubarak said “It [Egypt] will remain a country dear to my heart. It will not part with me and I will not part with it until my passing” and today, at the “passing” of Mubarak’s presidency, nobody can deny the huge impact, whether positive or negative, that Hosni Mubarak has had on Egypt.