CAIRO: Middle East and world leaders paid tribute on Tuesday to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian air force officer who never expected to become president but ruled his country for 30 years.
Mubarak, who was 91, took office in October 1981 after six years as vice president, when Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Cairo by Islamist militants. He was forced to stand down in February 2011 after 18 days of protests during the so-called “Arab Spring.”
The former president died in the intensive care unit of a Cairo military hospital, where he underwent surgery a few weeks ago.
Mubarak was admired and detested in equal measure, both in Egypt and in the wider Middle East, a paradox reflected in reactions to his death.
The office of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi offered condolences and described Mubarak as one of the “heroes of the October 1973 war against Israel.”
In Saudi Arabia, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent their “deepest condolences and sincere sympathies” to Mubarak’s family, and the Egyptian president and people.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, described Mubarak as “an Arab leader who worked loyally for Arab unity and stability and stood firmly against extremism and terrorism.”
Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said he was “a statesman ... who espoused nationalistic and historical positions.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he mourned Mubarak’s death “with great sorrow” and praised his support of the Palestinian cause.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of his “deepest sorrow” on behalf of Israel and its people. “President Mubarak, a personal friend of mine, led his nation to peace and security,” he said.
The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei, a key opposition figure in Mubarak’s declining years, also paid tribute. “May God have mercy on the former president ... and grant his family patience and comfort,” he said.
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Protesters who took part in the revolution that unseated Mubarak were also forgiving. “He was loyal and loving of Egypt,” said opposition activist Wael Ghoneim. “He took on a great responsibility toward the Egyptian people.
“He was right a lot of the time and also wrong a lot of the time ... history will decide.”
Former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in the 2005 elections and was later jailed, was also conciliatory. “I promise to God I personally forgive him,” he said.
Ordinary Egyptians, many of whom admired Mubarak but complained of corruption, oppression and unemployment under his rule, had mixed feelings about his death.
“We had good and bad memories,” said Sherin Saad, a woman in her 30s, who criticized graft and the privatization of public companies, which Mubarak’s critics say enriched the elite.
Atef Bayoumi, walking on the Nile Corniche in central Cairo, said: “He was a patriot. Regardless of the final events, he surely did good things for the country.”
However, Gamal Eid, a prominent human rights activist, said: “My condolences to all tyrants, they lost one today.”
Such views, however, will be in a minority for the rest of this week. Mubarak’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, with full military honors, followed by three days of official mourning throughout Egypt.