Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president ousted during Arab spring, dies at 91

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Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president ousted during Arab spring, dies at 91

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled as president in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising after 30 years of authoritarian rule, died Tuesday, state television said. He was 91 and had been hospitalised for several weeks.

Mubarak became a symbol of thuggish and brutal authority after taking power in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. His reign was marked by the emergence of a paranoid and cruel police state supported by a network of sprawling military businesses and corrupt crony businessmen. Many Egyptians see echoes of Mubarak’s style of leadership in their current leader, the former general Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Mubarak spent six years in jail following the protests, but was released in 2017 by Egypt’s highest appeals court, which cleared the majority of charges against him, including inciting the killing of nearly 900 protesters. He was initially sentenced to life in prison in 2012, but an appeals court dismissed that sentence in 2014.

Mubarak stood down in a public address to the nation on February 11, 2011, after days of protests in Cairo and other cities in Egypt.

The ousted leader returned to his home in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis district after his release.

Arab Spring revolts

Egypt underwent several tumultuous years after the Arab Spring revolts, with numerous terrorist attacks and a second presidential ouster in 2013 that saw the military push aside elected president and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi. Morsi died in an Egyptian prison in 2019. Egypt’s current president since 2014 is former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

While praised by international financial bodies for liberalizing Egypt’s economy and improving growth figures for the economy of 98 million people, many rights groups have called el-Sissi worse than Mubarak in terms of his treatment of human rights and civil liberties.

They point to the killing of thousands of opponents and the imprisonment of tens of thousands, including secular activists and Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and sweeping crackdowns on free speech. In April 2019, Egypt’s Parliament voted by a comfortable majority to amend the country’s constitution, allowing el-Sissi to stay in power for 11 more years. Critics of the changes say the move essentially brings back the days of Mubarak.

A taste of democracy

His overthrow eventually led to the first democratic elections held in Egypt since independence, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood – banned and suppressed for decades under Mubarak – to power.

Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died on June 17 while standing trial for charges that he and legal observers said were politically motivated.

He was deposed in a 2013 military coup carried out by current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi, who belonged to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown after a tumultuous year in power.

Mohammed Morsi’s rule of the country was described as both divisive and chaotic after the coup Morsi was imprisoned

Egyptian leader was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours of each day, the experts explained. While serving six years of jail time on charges of alleged terrorism, spying and escape from prison, “he was not allowed to see other prisoners, even during the one hour a day he was permitted to exercise.”

“He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only one or two blankets for protection. He was not allowed access to books, journals, writing materials or a radio”, the independent rights experts detailed in an “official communication” to the Government.

Mr. Morsi, who took office as the first democratically-elected head of State in modern Egyptian history from 2012 to 2013 – before a military takeover – also “was denied life-saving and ongoing care for his diabetes and high blood pressure” while incarcerated, the group went on, and consequently, “he progressively lost the vision in his left eye, had recurrent diabetic comas and fainted repeatedly. From this, he suffered significant tooth decay and gum infections.”

Despite repeated warnings to authorities that such conditions would gradually undermine Mr. Morsi’s health, to the point of killing him, “there is no evidence they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable.”

“Dr. Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detentions in the Tora prison complex”, said Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, together with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

An independent panel of United Nations experts has said the death of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in June 2019 could amount to “a state-sanctioned arbitrary killing”.

“Dr. Morsi’s death after enduring those conditions could amount to a State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”, they added in a press release.  

A History of military dictators

Mubarak, who took power in 1981 after the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat, had been increasingly frail during his trial prior to 2017, often appearing in court strapped to a hospital gurney.

Mubarak was known for being a U.S. ally and strong opponent of Islamist militancy, with Egypt receiving some $1.5 billion annually in American aid, the second-highest amount of any country after Israel. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. sent Egypt roughly $72 billion in bilateral economic and military aid. He largely continued his predecessor Anwar Sadat’s policies, including preserving the Camp David accords and diplomatic relations with Israel.

For millions of ordinary Egyptians, however ⁠— particularly for the tens of thousands who protested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 — Mubarak was a strongman and a dictator, known for arresting his opponents and cracking down on dissent. Human rights organisations for years criticised his harsh measures that included police brutality, arbitrary arrests, torture, lack of freedom of speech and assembly, and political censorship.

A man holds a portrait of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during a protest against Mubarak’s regime, following Friday prayers at the Beyazit square in Istanbul on February 4, 2011.
Photo: Bulent Kilic | Getty Images

The now Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the brutal military dictator who overthrew his country’s democratically elected president in a 2013 coup, killed more than 800 protesters in a single day, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents since he took power

Sisi later won elections in Egypt in 2014 in which the Brotherhood – and other anti-government candidates – were banned from taking part.

Tony Blair advised the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who came to power in a military coup, as part of a programme funded by the United Arab Emirates that promised to deliver huge “business opportunities” to those involved, the Guardian reported.

Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former press secretary who resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war “dodgy dossier” scandal, also advised the Sisi government on its public image as a paid contractor. Link

The former prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, who supported the coup against Egypt‘s elected president Mohamed Morsi, is to give Sisi advice on “economic reform” in collaboration with a UAE-financed taskforce in Cairo

How the current government responds to Mubarak’s death remains to be seen. Although Sisi ultimately came to power on the back of the revolution against Mubarak, his authoritarian style of rule has invited regular comparisons to the Mubarak era.

“Had Mubarak passed away in the early period of the revolutionary era, following his ouster, it would have probably been a relatively sombre affair,” H.A. Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Euronews.

“But in 2020, the revolutionary uprising in the official national narrative has been relegated to a space that almost completely fails to recognise that it was an uprising against Mubarak’s regime. Considering the Egyptian military was the institution that finally pushed Mubarak out of power, it will be interesting to see how his passing is actually treated officially.”

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