Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak: Life and times

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned his presidency and handed over power to the military, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced on Friday on Egyptian State Television. In this March 7, 1983 photo, Egyptian President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak greets Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on his arrival for the opening session of the 7th NAM summit, in New Delhi. Mubarak resigned on Friday after 30 years in rule. After 18 days of unprecedented protests across the country, Mubarak's 30 year rule of the North African country came to an abrupt end.

Born in 1928 in the village of Kafr el-Moseilha in the Nile delta province of Menoufia, he rose through the ranks of the Air Force when Egypt was locked in conflict with Israel, eventually becoming Air Chief Marshall after the Yom Kippur or Ramadan war 1973, in which Egypt reversed some of the humiliation of the 1967 Six Day war defeat. He then became President Anwar Sadat's trusted Vice-President in 1975

Six years later at a military parade, Mubarak was rushed to safety as Islamic militants sprayed the leaders' podium with bullets, assassinating Sadat. Mubarak was unscathed; he was sitting right next to Sadat, prompting many to speculate about whether a conspiracy or incredible good fortune were behind his safety.

Mubarak was named president seven days later in October 1981 and proceeded to carry on the main tenets of Sadat's post-Gamal Abdul Nasser years. Nasser, Egypt's first post revolution leader, had been the focal champion of pan-Arabism, Arab socialism and nationalism, in the 1950s and 1960s, maintained a state of war with Israel, had close ties with Moscow, and was a leading figure of the non-aligned movement.

In a March 19, 1985 file photo, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, center, welcomes Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, and King Hussein of Jordan during a surprise visit to Baghdad. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military. Sadat made peace with Israel, switched Egypt's super power alliance to Washington in exchange for huge injections of economic and military aid, opened up the economy, creating a rich elite, and ruthlessly repressed the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the years went by, Mubarak became more aloof, carefully choreographing his public appearances, and his authoritarian governing style appeared increasingly out of sync with a world focused on economic and political openness.

Mubarak was a regional heavyweight, and a familiar face on the international stage, often involved in the various, mostly aborted, attempts at Middle East diplomacy and peace negotiations. It was his continued crackdown of the Islamic opposition, however which nearly brought him the same fate as Sadat. In June, 1995, Mubarak narrowly escaped assassination in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as he arrived at an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit. His car was riddled with bullets by jihadists, but he again survived. Upon his return to Cairo, he told reporters, "Suddenly I found a blue van blocking the road and somebody just flat on the ground and machine guns started. For me it was shocking. What's that? Then I realised there were bullets coming in our car."

In a Sept. 28, 1995 file photo, President Bill Clinton, left, speaks with Yassar Arafar, center, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, during a reception for Middle East leaders in Washington. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military.

As his contemporaries, Jordan's King Hussein and Syria's Hafez Al Assad, died and were replaced by their sons, observers speculated that Mubarak would lay the foundations for his son, Gamal to follow suit. Many Egyptians feared that Gamal might end up with the presidency, and that fuelled further resentment towards the regime. Mubarak never appointed a vice president as the constitution required. Critics said he wanted no rivals, but he repeatedly said the parliament dominated by his ruling party would oversee the succession in accordance with the constitution.

Extremist attacks hit Egypt several times during his time in power, before and after the September 11 attacks. Most prominent, were the massacre of 58 tourists at Luxor in 1997 and the Taba attacks in 2004 that targeted Israeli tourists, and left some 34 people of varying nationalities dead. Another of his long-term cotemporaries, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, with whom he shared an at times difficult relationship, died in November 2004, and was accorded a statesman's funeral in Cairo before his burial in Ramallah.

In a July 25, 2002 file photo, French President Jacques Chirac, right, and his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak gesture during a news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military. On the domestic front, democratic credentials were never a priority for Mubarak, who kept the pro-reform and Islamic opposition cowed or imprisoned. Anti-government demonstrations gained strength in 2004 and 2005, led by the "Kifaya" (enough) pro-reform movement, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The government ensured that the first ever presidential elections, held in September 2005, were a foregone conclusion, in spite of a constitutional amendment which allowed others to stand against the incumbent. The purported move toward democratic reform retrenched sharply when opponents made gains, and Mubarak jailed both his main secular opponent, Ayman Nour, and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.Mubarak easily won a fifth term, the previous four having come by referendum.

Turnout was low in March 2007, in a rushed referendum on amending Egypt's constitution, changes the government touted as democratic reforms but critics dismissed as attempts to curtail rights and consolidate the regime's power.

In this Oct. 6, 1981 file photo, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, right, and Vice President Hosni Mubarak are seen on the reviewing stand during a military parade just before soldiers opened fire from a truck during the parade at the reviewing stand, killing Sadat and injuring Mubarak. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military. AP The authorities claimed more than 75 percent of voters approved their changes. The opposition insisted the poll was rigged. He remained Washington's closest ally in the Arab World, along with Saudi Arabia, though he warned that the Iraq war would create scores of Bin Ladens.

He endorsed former US President George W. Bush's push for Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations and a two-state settlement which consequently foundered.
When Hamas destroyed the wall at the Rafah crossing, effectively ending the Israeli blockade of Gaza in January this year for some days, Mubarak instructed his troops to keep the border open. "I told them to let them come in and eat and buy food and then return them later as long as they were not carrying weapons," he told reporters. The Bush administration seemed to tire of Mubarak's anti-democratic tendencies, as reflected in a brief flying visit by the president during his major Middle East tour in January 2008.

In this June 1, 1990 file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visit a panorama and weapons exhibition of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military. Applying the same dictum to their other autocratic and monarchy-led friends in the region, they were more wary of the possible populist alternative - a militant Islamic party in power. After the Algerian paradigm, the rise of Hamas, Hezbollah, and stealth of Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mubarak's strongest international card was always his maintenance of the status quo, though it won him few admirers at home. Mubarak's health was frequently called into question by observers in recent years, although discussions were usually kept under tight control by the regime and public statements on the issue were rare.

In an Aug. 18, 1981 file photo, Egyptian Vice-President Honsi Mubarak, right, speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Alexandria, Egypt. Egypt's vice president says Mubarak resigned on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 as president and handed control to the military.
In 2006, an editor was sentenced to six months in prison for reporting on rumours about the president's health. Mubarak later pardoned the journalist. Many diplomats and Egyptian political observers believe his health took a downturn after the sudden death of his 12-year-old grandson in May 2009. However, Mubarak continued travelling abroad and touring Egyptian provinces. In March 2010, Mubarak underwent an operation in Germany to remove his gall bladder after temporarily handing over power to the prime minister.
Source: Associated Press

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