SHARM EL-SHEIKH, (Reuters) – Hosni Mubarak’s detention by a prosecutor has stunned and amazed millions of Egyptians but some in the military now ruling the country are deeply uncomfortable about humiliating their elderly former commander.
Before protests erupted on January 25, Mubarak and his political and business elite were seen as above the law. Now the ex-president and his two sons are being brought to justice.
“Not just one Mubarak but three Mubaraks will face trial! That’s what I call a revolution,” said Essa Abdullah, who works in one of the hotels in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Mubarak, 82, a former air force chief tossed out of office on February 11 by people power, was ordered detained on Wednesday for 15 days for questioning. For now, he is being held in a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh receiving treatment.
His two sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, have also been added to a list of those detained and have already been moved to Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo where presidential aides, ex-ministers, former party officials and executives are held.
An army source said on Thursday Mubarak’s condition was stable but said there were no plans for now to move him.
Mubarak has been detained in a probe over the killing of protesters, abusing power and embezzling public funds. . More than 380 people were killed in the demonstrations.
“For Mubarak, Egyptians were out of sight and out of mind. He stayed in Sharm el-Sheikh most of the year and when he came out to the streets they were cleared of people so ‘his highness’ could scoot along in his limo. But God is greater than any pharaoh,” said Metwali Ismail, a protester in the resort.
In office, Mubarak spent more and more time in Sharm el-Sheikh. Its neat and clean streets lined with plush hotels are a world away from the grinding poverty of many Egyptians.
On the third floor inside the glass pyramid-shaped hospital rests the ailing Mubarak, a medical source said. No visitors are allowed in to see a man dubbed by Egyptians as a modern pharaoh. Six police trucks and hundred of security men guard the gates.
Dozens of protesters outside the hospital on Wednesday night chanted: “Thief come down … Where is our money?” They want Mubarak to leave tourist hub and head to Cairo to face trial.
MUBARAK THE AIR FORCE COMMANDER
For the army, which assumed power after Mubarak was ousted, the former commander-in-chief’s fall from grace is hard to stomach. Some soldiers see his detention as a humiliation though necessary step to assuage the protesters demanding a purge.
“You can demand justice forcefully without needing to resort to obscene insults,” said a senior army officer in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Most Egyptians see Mubarak in light of what they say was 30 years of repressive and corrupt rule. But he was also a air force chief in the 1973 war with Israel that led to Egypt regaining control of the Sinai and Sharm el-Sheikh.
“We distinguish between Mubarak the president, who had erred politically, and Mubarak the army officer who was a respectable, efficient officer who fought in the war,” the officer said.
“We fulfil our duties as an objective third party and we are keen to going back to our barracks to do our primary job.”
Protesters had heaped pressure on the army, accusing it of colluding with remnants of Mubarak’s regime and thwarting popular demands for putting him and others on trial. But protesters said they would hold off on another big protest planned for Friday after Mubarak was ordered detained.
“Almost all of the revolution’s demands have been met with this judicial move. The armed forces and the youth are vigilant in guarding the revolution,” the senior officer said.
Mubarak’s son Gamal, 47, a banker turned politician, had been another target for protesters. Many believed he was being groomed for president, though father and son denied it. Alaa, his other son, had stayed out of the political limelight.
“In the last decade of his rule Mubarak became less and less involved in running the country’s affairs, and increasingly dependent on his sons who enjoyed a lot of leverage,” an Egyptian official in Sharm el-Sheikh said.
He said this explained how Mubarak become estranged from his generals.
Gamal and his allies spearheaded economic liberalisation from 2004 that delivered sturdy growth but which Egyptians blamed for deepening the divide between rich and poor.
“The causes of this legitimate revolution were many. One of them was people’s growing sense of increasing corruption and hoarding of wealth and the growing gap between rich and poor,” Major General Mahmoud Nasr from the military council told a gathering last week in Cairo.