The Last Lion Of Cairo:Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak

Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak /Anwar El Sadat

Hosni Mubarak once said he planned to “bear his responsibilities” as long as his heart was beating.Always dourly confident, never showing a trace of doubt about his lifetime achievements, the President of Egypt has posed for the past 30 years as a benign and tireless leader protecting the security and stability of his country and serving the welfare of its people.His supporters can argue that he saved Egypt from chaos after militants assassinated his predecessor in 1981, kept Egypt out of wars, restored relations with the Arab world after the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and, after long delays, allowed his government to open up the economy to stimulate growth.He also managed to suppress a long Islamist insurgency in southern Egypt in the 1990s after 1,200 people were killed.But Mr. Mubarak has not followed up with practical steps to make Egypt more democratic, and his chronic failure to change the corrupt and authoritarian political system he inherited caught up with him on Tuesday. At the age of 82 he finally had to face the prospect of a belated early retirement.He said in a late-night speech that he would stay on only until his current term ends in September. In the meantime, he would ask for constitutional amendments to open up presidential elections and limit the number of terms a president can serve.

It took a million angry people on the streets of Egypt to extract from him this concession. His chances of surviving in power till September look slim.In the past eight days of growing protests, at least 138 people have been killed, most of them by his riot police. The protesters say they want him and those around him to leave immediately.Mr. Mubarak seemed to be following uncannily the script written by Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, the day after he announced that after 23 years in office he would not stand again in 2014.Mr. Mubarak, however, made it clear he had no intention of going into exile. “This is my country … and I will die on its soil,” he said in his television address.

Mr. Mubarak was born on May 4, 1928, in the Nile Delta village of Kafr el-Moseilha. He joined the military academy in 1947, later opting for the air force and further training which took him to the Soviet Union, where he learned to fly bombers.In 1967, he became director of the air academy and in 1969 air force chief of staff. President Anwar Sadat chose him to command the air force and prepare it for the 1973 war against Israel. Two years later, Mr. Sadat appointed him vice-president.Mr. Mubarak narrowly escaped death when soldiers linked to a radical Islamist group shot Mr. Sadat dead at a military parade in Cairo on Oct. 6, 1981. He has been the target of several assassination attempts since, including a spectacular attack on his motorcade in Addis Ababa in 1995.

Mr. Sadat, the architect of peace with Israel, had taken Egypt far from its leadership role in the Arab world and upset many Egyptians by aligning the country firmly with the United States. Mr. Mubarak painstakingly restored ties with Arab states and was able to bring the Arab League back to Cairo.After Iraqi president Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Mr. Mubarak joined the United States and its allies in the campaign to drove the Iraqis out. In return he managed to win relief of Egyptian debts worth more than $20-billion.But in public he strongly advised against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, correctly predicting that it would cause chaos.

He rode out U.S. president George W. Bush’s short-lived campaign for democracy in the Arab world, allowing multi-candidate presidential elections for the first time ever in 2005. But as soon as Mr. Bush lost interest he went back to his old ways, and the parliamentary elections of 2010 saw more abuses than ever before, rights groups say.Starting in the 1990s, Mr. Mubarak has acted as an unofficial patron of the Middle East peace process, mediating between Israelis and Palestinians, and between rival Palestinian factions in an elusive quest for a settlement.His critics at home and in the Arab world say he has given too much weight to U.S. and Israeli interests to the detriment of ordinary Palestinians.After the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Mr. Mubarak went along with the Israeli blockade of the territory from the Egyptian side. When Israel attacked Gaza in early 2008, he allowed Israeli planes to fly over Egyptian territory on their bombing raids.

In his television address, he appeared keen to dispel the image of a man clinging on to power.“I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term,” he said. “I’ve spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.”He said he was proud of his achievements and had served his country to the best of his ability. In a remark reflecting his constant obsession with security, he said that the week of protests “impose on us a choice between chaos and stability”.

Excerpts of the televised speech delivered by President Hosni Mubarak:

The country is passing through difficult times and tough experiences which began with noble youths and citizens who practise their rights to peaceful demonstrations and protests, expressing their concerns and aspirations, but they were quickly exploited by those who sought to spread chaos and violence, confrontation and to violate the constitutional legitimacy and to attack it.

– Dear bothers and citizens, I took the initiative of forming a new government with new priorities and duties that respond to the demand of our youth and their mission. I entrusted the vice-president with the task of holding dialogue with all the political forces and factions about all the issues that have been raised concerning political and democratic reform and the constitutional and legislative amendments required to realize these legitimate demands and to restore law and order, but there are some political forces who have refused this call to dialogue, sticking to their particular agendas without concern for the current delicate circumstances of Egypt and its people.– I have never, ever sought power and the people know the difficult circumstances in which I shouldered my responsibility and what I offered this country in war and peace, just as I am a man from the armed forces and it is not in my nature to betray the trust or give up my responsibilities and duties.

My primary responsibility now is security and independence of the nation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in circumstances that protect Egypt and the Egyptians and allow handing over responsibility to whomever the people choose in the coming presidential election.I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I have spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safe-keeping and … preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution.I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of the long years he spent in the service of Egypt and its people. This dear nation is my country, it is the country of all Egyptians, here I have lived and fought for its sake and I defended its land, its sovereignty and interests and on this land I will die and history will judge me and others for our merits and faults.


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