Mubarak’s positive traits worth remembering

Mubarak’s positive traits worth remembering

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the opening ceremony of a new Nile River canal, in 1997. (AFP)

Hosni Mubarak, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 91, left behind the legacy of a man who ruled Egypt for 30 years, from 1981 until 2011. He had the longest rule over Egypt since Mohammed Ali Pasha, who founded the country as a modern independent state in the 19th century.

During his rule, the economic conditions in Egypt kept on worsening until they led to the uprising that ended his control over the country. However, as the Arab uprisings unfolded further and the world watched other rulers brutally crush protests, one should pay tribute to Mubarak for respecting the will of the people and leaving his seat gracefully.

On this, one should compare Mubarak to Bashar Assad. If we see what Assad did to keep his “seat,” we can appreciate Mubarak. One might argue that internal pressure was applied on Mubarak. The same pressure was exerted on Assad, as well as from the international community, but he snubbed it and held on to power. One might argue that the army did not stand with Mubarak. But again large factions of the army in Syria did not accept Assad’s orders to shoot at protesters, hence the formation of the Free Syrian Army. Nevertheless, the headstrong and arrogant Assad went after the protesters and called on pro-Iranian militias to supplement his forces.

The same happened with Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. He did not accept that his people did not want him anymore. His arrogance was above everything. He hired mercenaries from Chadto slaughter his own people. He instructed the forces loyal to him to rape women in Misrata to humiliate the peoplewho dared to defy his 40-year-old rule. Qaddafi and Assad are criminals who placed themselves above their people and felt they had the right to be brutal to preserve their power. Qaddafi was toppled only after an intense air campaign by Western forces. Assad is still defiant, despite half a million deaths and half of the Syrian people becoming either internally displaced or refugees. When you see those rulers and how evil and brutal they are, you tend to respect Mubarak. He was the one who preferred to give up power rather than see his country drown in blood.

Nevertheless, one cannot describe Mubarak’s rule as being marked with prosperity. It was more of an era of crony capitalism. His sons partnered with affluent businessmen and controlled the economy. However, today Egypt is not really any better off. The sectors that were once controlled by oligarchs are now controlled by the army and its generals. Therefore, the revolution did not really lead Egypt to a free market economy. Another factor that really did not help Mubarak was population growth, with the rentier economic model brought in by Gamal Abdel Nasser and followed by Anwar Sadat and Mubarak no longer able to cater to the growing population’s basic needs. Hence, the discontent that led to the uprising in Tahrir Square.

However, one should recognize that Mubarak, for all his faults domestically, was a skilled mediator. He played a big role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. On his death, Palestinian and Israeli leaders alike rushed to praise his role as a regional mediator. He was also able to contain Gaza at the eastern border of his country and preserve the stability of Egypt amid tumult in the region.

He was the one who preferred to give up power rather than see his country drown in blood.

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Despite preserving Sadat’s peace agreement with Israel, he kept the Israelisat arm’s length. The normalization with Israel was described as a cold peace. He kept interactions to a minimum and did not deepen a relationship that was viewed negatively by a large faction of Egyptian society. At the same time, he did not want to expand ties before Israel granted the Palestinians their legal right, namely an independent and sovereign state.

During Mubarak’s rule, Egypt played an important role in Arab diplomacy. It exercised soft power, juggling between events and managing crises. However, as Mubarak got old, he became more secluded and so did Egypt. In the later years of his rule, Egypt witnessed a disengagement from Arab affairs and the gradual loss of soft power.

Today, as the world says farewell to one of the longest-ruling rulers of modern history, one should also remember his positive traits. 

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She holds a PhD in politics from the University of Exeter and is an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
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