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In Mubarak’s legacy, Egyptians see failings and lost opportunities

The clashing fates of the two men underscore the complex task facing Egyptians as they weigh the legacy of Mubarak, who divides them in death as in life. Mubarak, who died on Tuesday at 91, will be buried with full military honours at a state funeral in Cairo on Wednesday.

The soaring hopes for democracy and reform that were stirred by Mubarak’s ouster during the Arab Spring in 2011 have been so completely crushed under its current ruler, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, that some Egyptians find themselves pining for the rule of the man they once despised.

“He was a crook,” one Egyptian said on Twitter after the government confirmed Mubarak’s death. “But he was a real man, and he never humiliated Egypt, unlike the dark days we are living now.”

A wounded Cairo demonstrator carries a poster during the Arab Spring uprising.

A wounded Cairo demonstrator carries a poster during the Arab Spring uprising.Credit:AP

That grudging respect for Mubarak makes commemorating his death a potentially delicate matter for Sisi, who announced three days of national mourning.

Early signals indicated that the government wanted to celebrate Mubarak as a war hero, principally for his role in leading Egypt’s air force against Israel in 1973. But it also wants to avoid any large-scale displays of public sympathy.

That ambivalence was evident in the hours after Mubarak’s death, when state television broadcast a sharply critical obituary, which referred to the last 10 years of Mubarak’s rule as “the decade of lost opportunities,” before switching to a promotion for an entertainment talk show.

This 1981 photo was taken moments before then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, right, and vice-president Hosni Mubarak were shot by soldiers who opened fire from a truck during a parade at review, killing Sadat and injuring Mubarak.

This 1981 photo was taken moments before then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, right, and vice-president Hosni Mubarak were shot by soldiers who opened fire from a truck during a parade at review, killing Sadat and injuring Mubarak. Credit:AP

At the same time, Sisi issued a statement expressing “great sadness and deep sorrow” at the death of Mubarak. “He was one of the October War commanders and heroes as he served as commander of the Egyptian Air Force during the war, which restored the dignity and pride of the Arab nation,” it said.

Reactions among other Egyptians varied greatly. Some were indignant that he was allowed to retire peacefully. “He should have been in a jail cell,” said Mohamed El Dahshan, an economist, on Twitter. “Or in The Hague. Instead, he benefited from the broken justice system he left us.”

Others gave a weary shrug.

“After nine years we no longer care,” said Taker Soliman, whose brother was one of about 800 people killed by Egyptian security forces in the uprising against Mubarak in 2011. “The revolution achieved nothing. Its demands are upside down, and 90 per cent of Egyptians have forgotten about it. They can give Mubarak whatever kind of funeral they want.”

Hosni Mubarak waves to his supporters from behind bars as he attends a hearing in his retrial on appeal in Cairo in 2013.

Hosni Mubarak waves to his supporters from behind bars as he attends a hearing in his retrial on appeal in Cairo in 2013.Credit:AP

A court sentenced Mubarak to life imprisonment in 2012 for his role in the deaths of protesters during the Arab Spring, but he was acquitted at a retrial. Corruption cases against other senior figures from his administration, as well as his sons, Alaa and Gamal, also collapsed.

His retirement started in earnest in 2017 when he was released from detention at a military hospital in Cairo, and returned to his villa in the upscale Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis. By then, many of the young protesters who had helped oust Mubarak in 2011 had been imprisoned or forced into exile by Sisi.

Last northern fall, Mubarak spoke in a video posted on YouTube about the 1973 war, his first interview on camera since his ouster. In May, he spoke with a Kuwaiti journalist about his foreign policy while president, including his efforts to prevent the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

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What really caught the attention of Egyptians, though, was a photo of the interview that showed Mubarak in a suit, sitting in a lavishly decorated room, holding forth as he had for so many years in power. The photograph, posted to Twitter, was signed with Mubarak’s autograph.

His death was mourned by the leaders of Israel and Palestine, whose conflict was a major preoccupation during his decades in power.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remembered him as “a personal friend”, while the Palestinian leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, said Mubarak “spent his life serving his homeland and the issues of righteousness and justice in the world, with the issue of our Palestinian people at the top of them.”

For Sisi, Mubarak represents a complex figure — the leader whom Egyptians ousted in a popular uprising, yet, like him, a military-backed authoritarian.

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Ultimately, Mubarak’s legacy may be Sisi’s iron-fisted rule, said Andrew Miller of the Project On Middle East Democracy.

“Mubarak is gone, but 100 million Egyptians still live in his Egypt,” Miller said. “Sisi is worse than Mubarak in many ways, but without Mubarak there is no Sisi. That is Mubarak’s legacy.”

Gamal Eid, a leading human rights activist, said that if Mubarak had faced true justice for his misdeeds, it would have set a powerful example in the Arab world.

“The tyrants of the world have lost one,” he said. “His legacy is a curse: entrenched corruption, bad laws and loyalists who are influential until now and known as the deep state.”

Above all, he added, “I am sad that he died without being held accountable.”

The New York Times

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