Mubarak`s 30-year legacy: An authoritarian, corrupt state

On 6 October 1981, Egyptians celebrated at the annual victory parade of their army’s battle against Israel eight years earlier, which eventually led to the end of the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, although not all Egyptians were pleased with President Anwar Sadat’s foreign policy. Sadat issued the bold and controversial decision to make Egypt the first Arab state to normalise relations with Israel. An Islamist serving as an Army Lieutenant, Khalid Ahmed Showky al-Islambouli, assassinated Sadat on that day. Islambouli met his own fate at the hands of a firing squad in April 1982. Sadat’s assassination, which sent a message to all Arab leaders about the risks of accepting Israel into the region’s diplomatic fold, led to President Hosni Mubarak’s rise to power.

Mubarak stayed in power for almost 30 years until the Arab Spring in 2011. Mubarak ruled Egypt as an authoritarian strongman. Mubarak successfully restored Egypt’s diplomatic ties with a long list of Arab states that cut off relations with Cairo because of its decision to abandon a pan-Arab struggle against the “Zionist enemy.” While in power, Mubarak also secured for Egypt high levels of foreign aid from Washington, which had previously welcomed Sadat’s decision to make peace with Israel, as well as Mubarak’s decision to keep that peace despite most Egyptians opposing their government’s relationship with Tel Aviv. The Mubarak regime oversaw a harsh crackdown on Islamists, especially after the assassination attempt on Mubarak himself in 1995 on a trip to the Ethiopian capital. In the years that followed 1995, Egypt became more of a police state with security agencies acting with seemingly no restraint. As many as 30,000 Egyptians were locked up on purported terrorism charges during that period. Amid these years of oppression, Egypt had a growing population and a stalling economy. Although many analysts saw Mubarak’s Egypt as a model for “authoritarian stability,” many citizens rejected his legitimacy.

On 25 January 2011, the tipping point came when widespread anger with Mubarak’s rule led to the Arab Spring, which surprised Middle East experts with how quickly the uprising brought an end to his presidency and ushered in a new era that is remembered as Egypt’s brief democratic experiment. Mubarak passed away last week at the age of 91. His death marked the end of an era. But Mubarak’s legacy lives on in Egypt. Despite Mubarak’s death, more than 100 million citizens continue to live under the rule of a government that has even surpassed Mubarak’s regime in terms of authoritarianism. After less than a decade of ousting Mubarak, many of the key figures in Mubarak’s government returned to their positions of power following the Saudi/Emirati-backed military-orchestrated coup d’état in 2013, essentially reversing the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Mubarak’s oppression was never as harsh as that of Egypt’s current head of state, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, not even close or comparable. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that Egypt’s status quo is a direct outcome of Mubarak’s style of governance that Egyptians lived under for three decades.

Egyptians live in the legacy of 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, as the state’s neglect, corrupt, authoritarian, and rampant use of torture were a result of Mubarak and his predecessors’ rule which institutionalised such practices as part of Egypt’s deep state. Political analysts see al-Sisi as Mubarak’s pupil, a pupil who surpassed his teacher. “Without Mubarak there would be no al-Sisi,” they have said. Indeed, Mubarak is no longer alive, but his brand of oppression is alive and well in Egypt under al-Sisi’s rule.