The Irish Times view on Hosni Mubarak’s legacy: a tyrant whose regime lives on
The late dictator’s rehabilitation symbolised the dashed hopes of the Arab Spring rebellion
Hosni Mubarak, who died on Tuesday at 91 in the comfort of his luxury villa, embodied in his personal rehabilitation all the dashed hopes of the democratic rebellion of that spring movement which had swept through the Middle East and which today appears only to hold sway in Tunisia. Photograph: Mohamed el-Shahed/ AFP via Getty Images
Hosni Mubarak may have lost power in the heady days of the Arab Spring of 2011, but Egyptians have continued to live, since the 2013 coup, under the iron fist of autocrat President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose modus operandi, military background and politics owe much to the late dictator. One hundred million Egyptians effectively still live in Mubarak’s Egypt.
The former dictator, who died on Tuesday at 91 in the comfort of his luxury villa following his release from military detention in 2017, embodied in his personal rehabilitation all the dashed hopes of the democratic rebellion of that spring movement which had swept through the Middle East and which today appears only to hold sway in Tunisia.
He was buried with military honours at a state funeral in Cairo on Wednesday. Yet this was the tyrant who ruled Egypt for three decades, ultimately sending out his thuggish supporters to attack the youthful rebels of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a cradle of the Arab Spring and a symbol of popular hope that empowered a generation across the region. Some 800 would die in the 18 days it took to force him from power, but the death toll across the Middle East, perhaps most cruelly and extensively in Syria’s abortive rising, would be far greater. Many of the Tahrir Square protesters who had helped oust him have since been imprisoned, tortured, executed, or forced into exile by el-Sisi’s brutal and corrupt regime.
And Mubarak would be free from jail by 2017, a life sentence overturned on appeal, able to testify the following year at the show trial of his democratically elected successor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. The latter collapsed and died during a court hearing last year.
Mubarak, a senior air force officer, came to power following the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Since the fall of the monarchy in 1952 and the establishment of the Egyptian republic the following year, the country had had just four presidents by 2011: the figurehead coup leader Mohammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.
The real power in the land was always the military which controls large swathes of an impoverished economy and whose implacable hostility to Islam-inspired politics was for many years the regime’s calling card with the western powers. Egypt, they were told, was an essential regional peace partner, and the US duly responded with huge supplies of arms and a blind eye to the Mubarak human rights excesses.
His willingness to promote peace with Israel and his predecessor Sadat’s 1979 peace deal would place Egypt at odds with its Arab neighbours. Eventually, however, Mubarak managed in 1989 to restore Egypt’s membership of the autocrats’ debating club that is the Arab League.