How Mubarak Turned into an Autocrat
In Egypt, Mubarak has long been considered a tyrant. The country was under a perpetual state of emergency. Mubarak kept his grip on power using anti-terror laws and elections that were obviously rigged. He turned his country into a police state. Well over 1 million informers, agents and police officers are said to have kept the population of more than 80 million under surveillance. The opposition was kept small, and media outlets that were critical of the regime had a hard time. Political dissidents landed in prisons that were notorious for torture, and many people simply disappeared without a trace.
The assassination attempts that Mubarak survived over the years showed just how hated the despot was. The closest he came to death was in 1995 during a visit to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Mubarak was on the way to an Organization of African Unity summit when his convoy was attacked by Egyptian Islamists. It was only thanks to the armor plating of his German-built car that the president survived.
Mubarak resisted international pressure to bestow his people with greater freedoms. Pressed by Washington, he tolerated candidates other than himself during the 2005 presidential election. But the regime expended little effort on making the vote a democratic one. Because of obvious manipulation, opposition candidate Aiman Nur only succeeded in garnering around 7 percent of the votes. Nur’s candidacy also came at great expense to him personally. Shortly after the election, he was sentenced to five years in prison on specious charges.
It was Egypt’s economic decline, however, that fuelled the greatest anger. In the 1970s, the country could still be measured against economies like that of South Korea. But when the Asian countries began their ascent, Egypt couldn’t keep up.
Mubarak’s Egypt also Failed Economically
The failure of the Socialist planned economy that Egypt, like many other Arab countries, had adopted was, of course, one reason. But Mubarak’s system also proved to be fertile ground for corruption and kleptocracy. A report in Germany’s Die Tageszeitung newspaper recalls a joke that people in Egypt like to share. Mubarak’s son Alaa is invited to the Mercedes dealership in Cairo. “For just €2 you can pick out a luxury sedan, your excellence,” says the Mercedes dealer. The president’s son then pulls a €10 note out of his pocket. As the dealer tries to stop him, he says: “I will just take five cars.”
Reforms undertaken that were intended to consolidate the national budget largely benefitted the middle and upper classes. The suffering of the poor merely continued to grow — and with it, the rage. Rumors have been the only information available about the scope of the dictator’s wealth. Still, they have been sufficient to fuel the hatred. The Mubarak family’s riches are said to be worth around $40 billion, wealth accumulated through, for example, commissions received through defense contracts. Arab media outlets report that the money has been securely invested abroad. Even out of power, the Mubarak family won’t be left in need. Experts, however, doubt that such estimates of the dictator’s wealth are realistic.
Mubarak’s relations with other nations in the Arab world were problematic from the beginning. The separate peace agreement his predecessor Anwar Sadat reached with Israel in 1979 severely damaged Egypt’s position as a major political power with other Arab nations. Nevertheless, Mubarak decided to stick to the contentious treaty. This secured Egypt’s connection with the West as well as foreign aid from the United States to the tune of $1.5 billion a year, including $1.3 billion in military support. Mubarak later succeeded in restoring membership for Egypt in the Arab League, thus ending the country’s isolation within the Arab region.
Nevertheless, many have never forgiven Mubarak for declaring peace between Israel and the Arabs as “his mission.” All across the Arab world, some still continued to disparage Mubarak as a “Zionist” or “lackey of the West” right up to his resignation. Pious Muslims also considered him to be their enemy because of the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
It remains to be seen what the transfer of power will mean. Will the army stick to the current plan to hold elections in September or will it bring the opposition into the transition much earlier? The future role of Vice President Suleiman, named to the position only days ago, also remains unclear. Those, however, are questions for the coming days.
For the moment, the Egyptians are celebrating their revolution.