Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak died on Tuesday 25 February 2020. News that the former President passed away began circulating once condolences to the Mubarak family appeared on social media that morning. Later in the day, his eldest son Alaa Mubarak posted the news on his Twitter account, preceded by a Qur’an verse and ending with a short prayer for his father.
The news was not unexpected; the 91-year-old former President’s health condition was known to be precarious; he had had surgery three days earlier and was under intensive care in hospital when he breathed his last.
Military man, military honour
Once it became public knowledge that Mubarak had died, Egyptians took to social media to voice their sentiments. Even though many, mostly young, people posted opinions of Mubarak as the origin of problems battering Egypt today, the majority of comments by young and old, widely mourned him as a national hero who did much for Egypt, and who respectfully stepped out of office rather than let his country contract civil war.
“We will never forget that Mubarak was a war hero,” lawyer Sherif Rasmy wrote. “We’ll never forget that during the 2011 uprising he gave orders that not a single bullet should be fired against Egyptian demonstrators; that he stepped down rather than allow the country to fall into civil war; that he never fled Egypt even though it meant he might be put in prison; that he said he’d live what remained of his life in Egypt and die on its soil, which he did. We’ll never forget that he was acquitted of all charges against him, except one minor charge. Now he is in God’s hands, may He have mercy on him.”
Journalist Marcelle Nasr wrote: “We may agree or differ in opinion on Mubarak, but the fact remains that he was a military man with military honour who did a lot for Egypt, on all levels not only in the military. When we turned against him in 2011, he put Egypt first and peacefully decided to step down. Other leaders such as Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, or Assad brought ruin on their lands for holding on to their posts. Not so Mubarak! This man deserves of us full honours.”
On a different note, Hany Iskandar wrote: “The man who froze Egypt for 30 years is gone. What are you mourning? He dragged Egypt backwards as never before.”
But Atef Nagy wrote: “Farewell Hosni Mubarak, the man who restored to Egypt the last fistful of its soil. Farewell, honourable man.”
“Homeland eternal, men come and go”
Egypt’s Presidency declared three days of national mourning.
It mourned Mubarak in a statement that said: “The Presidency of the Republic deeply mourns former President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak who served his nation as a leader and hero of the October 1973 War which restored dignity and pride for the Arab nation.” The statement offered the Presidency’s condolences to Mubarak’s family.
Egypt’s Armed Forces also issued a statement mourning the former President as “one of its sons and a leader of the glorious October 1973 War”. The statement extended condolences to Mubarak’s family, and the officers and members of the Armed Forces, concluding with a prayer for his soul.
The former President was mourned by Egypt’s House of Representatives, Egypt’s Cabinet, and Egyptian State institutions.
For their part, all Egypt’s Churches mourned Mubarak. The Coptic Orthodox Church, headed by Pope Tawadros II, issued a statement which read: “The Coptic Church deeply grieves the death of former President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, a leader and hero of the October 1973 War.
“He shouldered the responsibility of the homeland during extremely troubled times, and continued to lead the nation for three decades.
“We recall his words before stepping down in February 2011: ‘This dear homeland is mine; I have lived in it, fought for it, and on its land will I die. The homeland is eternal, but men come and go. History will have the final say on me and those who come after me, what we did right and what we did wrong.’
“The Church offers its condolences to the family of the deceased; to the leaders, officers, and soldiers of the Armed Forces; and to all State institutions.
“We pray that God may rest his soul in peace.”
Mubarak was given a military funeral on Wednesday 26 February.
The former President’s coffin was airlifted by a military aircraft to the grounds of Mushir Tantawi mosque on the eastern outskirts of Cairo, where he was received by family members and friends, and a number of figures who had held prominent positions in the Mubarak regime. A crowd of Mubarak supporters gathered in front of the mosque, carrying Egyptian flags and pictures of the former President.
A visibly grieved Suzanne Mubarak, the former President’s wife, his two sons Alaa and Gamal and their wives, and his grandson Omar, were all there for the funeral service. Together with the honour guard, Alaa and Gamal carried their father’s coffin, which was draped in Egypt’s tricolour flag, into the mosque for funeral prayers.
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi arrived to lead the military funeral. He was flanked by Mubarak’s sons and grandson; Adly Mansour, Egypt’s Interim President in 2013/2014; the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb; Pope Tawadros II; Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli; Speaker of the House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal; and military leaders and senior officials.
The coffin was mounted on a horse-drawn carriage as a guard of honour preceded by two military men carrying a number of the former President’s medals and decorations marched alongside, to a 21-canon gun salute.
Notably, Mubarak had earned 71 medals and decorations throughout his life, awarded to him by Egypt and other countries.
Once the military funeral was over, President Sisi shook hands with Suzanne Mubarak and her sons, extending his condolences to them. The coffin was then airlifted to the family tomb for burial.
Muhammad Hosni al-Sayed Mubarak was born on 4 May 1928 in Kafr Messeilha in the Nile Delta governorate of Menoufiya, to a modest family. His father was a worker at a courthouse, and his mother was a typical peasant woman.
Upon completion of high school in Shebin al-Koum, the capital city of Menoufiya, Mubarak joined the Egyptian Military Academy, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Military Sciences in 1949. The same year, Mubarak joined the Air Force Academy, gaining his commission as a pilot officer on 13 March 1950 and eventually receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Sciences.
As an Egyptian Air Force officer, Mubarak served in various formations and units, including two years in a Spitfire fighter squadron. Some time in the 1950s, he returned to the Air Force Academy, this time as an instructor, remaining there until early 1959. He gained a reputation for being firm and precise; his students held him in awe.
While at the Air Force Academy, one of Mubarak’s students who became a friend and was resident in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, Mounir Thabet, introduced Mubarak to the Heliopolis scene. Heliopolis was then a cosmopolitan suburb; Mubarak fell under its charm and was warmly taken in by Thabet’s family. He later married Thabet’s sister, Suzanne, with whom he had his two sons Alaa and Gamal.
Alaa is married to Heidi Rasekh and has a 20-year-old son Omar; an older son Muhammad died in 2009 at age 12. Gamal is married to Khadiga al-Gammal with whom he has two children: a daughter Farida, 10, and a son Mahmoud, 4.
Mubarak was known to be a warm family man; his attachment to his grandchildren was legendary. In fact, the last photograph of him was taken earlier this month in his hospital bed with Omar standing close and lovingly kissing him on the forehead; Omar posted the photo on his Facebook page with the comment: “In love and appreciation”.
October 1973 War
From February 1959 to June 1961, Mubarak undertook further training in the Soviet Union. He trained on jet bombers, and joined the Frunze Military Academy in 1964.
On his return to Egypt, Mubarak served in wing and then base commander appointments, taking up command of the Cairo West Air Base in October 1966 before briefly commanding the Beni Sweif Air Base.
In November 1967, Mubarak became the Air Force Academy’s Commander when he was credited with doubling the number of pilots and navigators in the Air Force during the pre-October War years. Two years later he became Chief of Staff for the Egyptian Air Force.
Mubarak became Commander of the Air Force and Egyptian Deputy Minister of Defence in 1972. His military career peaked in February 1974 when he was promoted to Air Chief Marshal in recognition of service during the October War of 1973 against Israel; he has been credited for the strong, decisive performance of the Egyptian Air Force in the war.
In April 1975, Mubarak was appointed by Sadat as Vice-President of Egypt. In this position, he loyally served Sadat’s policies. He took part in government consultations that dealt with the future disengagement of forces agreement with Israel.
When Sadat declared the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in July 1978, he appointed Mubarak as Deputy Chairman of the party. Since that time, he had an upper hand in all the country’s affairs.
Following the assassination of Sadat in October 1981 at the hands of Islamists who opposed the peace agreement he had concluded with Israel, Mubarak became the fourth President of Egypt, and Chairman of the NDP.
President Mubarak was re-elected by majority votes in referenda for successive terms on three occasions: in 1987, 1993, and 1999. After increased domestic and international pressure for democratic reform in Egypt, Mubarak asked the parliament on 26 February 2005 to amend the constitution to allow multi-candidate presidential elections by September 2005, which had witnessed violence incidents and detentions of the opposition candidates.
Economic improvement was a long, slow process during the Mubarak time.
His policies reduced the size of government and expanded the private sector, moves which earned him the ire of leftists in Egypt who insisted that projects were short-sold and workers’ rights curtailed in the process.
In 1998, the then Premier Atef Ebeid, took the decision of a controlled float of the Egyptian pound against the dollar. Even though this led to a painful spiral in prices and cost of living, it is credited with being a major step in building a strong Egyptian economy. Under Youssef Boutros-Ghali as Finance Minister during the 2000s, the economy grew at an enviable 4 to 7 per cent a year.
The Mubarak era saw a huge surge in the country’s infrastructure and, under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and his Smart Village project, in information technology; Egypt was second to India as a destination for outsourcing electronic services. Significant buildings and vital projects were established; including the Cairo and Giza underground metro, the al-Salam canal in Sinai, the Toshka project in Aswan, the reconstruction of Halayeb, and housing projects for youth.
A common complaint, however, was that the gap between the rich and the poor was growing wider; and that benefits of the economic reform were not reaching the poorer classes. Ironically, it is the poorer classes who today vocally mourn Mubarak and his “times of plenty”. Many of them voiced this opinion on the media, including the BBC’s Arabic TV channel.
The Mubarak era witnessed many labour strikes; prevalence of torture in police stations; and rising the numbers of the political prisoners.
In September 2003, Mubarak omitted 14 articles of the total 21 of the Emergency Law applied since 1967. The notorious law extended police powers and suspended constitutional rights. It sharply circumscribed non-governmental political activity; street demonstrations, non-approved political organisations, and unregistered financial donations were banned. Some 17,000 people were detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners ran as high as 30,000.
The government claimed the law was only used against terrorists and drug traffickers, and that Islamist opposition groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members were frequently detained under the Emergency Law, would exploit democracy to take over the country.
The vision was almost prophetic, because it was fulfilled once Mubarak stepped down in the wake of the 2011 uprising, handing power to Egypt’s Armed Forces. It took Egyptians another two-and-a-half years to bring down the post-Arab Spring Islamist Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013, and establish a secular civil State.
Two months after he stepped out of office, Mubarak, together with his two sons, stood trial for a number of charges that ranged from corruption to abuse of power and killing protestors during the 2011 uprising. He was acquitted of all charges, however, except one of embezzlement for which he and his sons were sentenced to three years in prison, and fined EGP125 million.
Throughout his court trials he, together with his sons, conducted himself with full respect and decorum. Egyptians will never forget the gentle care bestowed upon him by his sons as he was wheeled on a stretcher into the defendant’s cage in the courtroom, and all through the court sessions. He answered in a strong voice when his name was called by the judge, and to any question directed at him. Otherwise, he never spoke or interrupted.
A large part of Mubarak’s time in detention while he stood trial was spent in hospital, some 1200 days. Hospital workers close to him told the news site Youm7 that he was always a gentle, calm patient who showed respect and warm gratitude to all staff members.
The woman who cleaned his room said that, upon leaving hospital, he said: “I spent good days with you, and will lovingly remember you all.” She said he got regular visits from his family who would always celebrate his birthday with a cake. “He read the papers daily, and was always very sad when there were news of Islamic terror attacks against Egypt,” she said.
Mubarak returned to court on 26 December 2018, this time as a witness in a case known in the media as “The break-in at Egypt’s eastern borders” by Palestinian Islamists at the outset of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. They set free Muslim Brotherhood (MB) prisoners to join and manage the uprising.
Mubarak testified to the role of the MB in the violence, arson, and sniper fire during the uprising, and their part in post-Arab Spring Egypt. “There was a [Islamist] conspiracy against Egypt,” he said. “The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran gave a speech on 4 February 2011 during his Friday sermon, egging the Egyptian protestors on. It was the first time an Iranian president speaks in Arabic.”
Mubarak gave his testimony but, when asked questions which he considered to involve sensitive information, required permission from the intelligence apparatus to talk. He said he handed the country over to the Armed Forces on 11 February 2011 “so that Egypt does not fall”.
In a twist of fate, the man described by the media as the “ousted” or “toppled” president is today best remembered by the majority of Egyptians for having “stepped down” to save Egypt.
Yes, this was it: Egypt. The keyword that governed every moment and action of Mubarak’s life. For all it was worth, what he did right or what he did wrong, he always had Egypt at heart. History alone will pronounce the final judgement on this man.
For now, Mubarak who spent his life in his beloved Egypt has died in it and has been buried there as was his heart’s desire. “Dust unto dust”, the dust of Egypt.
————————————————————————————Reporting by Michael Girgis, Amany Ayed
27 February 2020