On 11 February, ten years ago, Egypt’s revolutionaries were reaping success from their revolution after the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak. But after a short period of time, oppression and the deterioration of the economic and political conditions remained the same. From one tyrant to another, the government in Egypt is moving further away from a simple period in which Egypt lived a democratic life following the revolution.
Mubarak appeared as a strong ruler whose throne could not be shaken and who has held power for longer than any other ruler since Muhammad Ali Pasha’s era, the founder of the modern Egyptian state.
The revolution revealed that what Mubarak built was fragile and temporary because the basis of his rule was a mixture of a firm grip, corruption, and an alliance with the West, relying on guiding principles for his regime based on security and stability, and the pillars of his state were the police, intelligence services, and the person himself. Therefore, he placed his homeland and the West before two options, either to remain in power or that chaos would prevail, and his focus on security was limited to the protection of the regime.
Mubarak believed that stability is more important than any development, and he did not have any particular vision or noticeable achievement, and all he did was preserve the status quo without trying to improve it. His contribution to solving Egypt’s chronic problems, such as illiteracy, poverty, and disease, was minimal. Although Mubarak passed away, some of those against whom the revolution was launched returned to the fore after they were acquitted of the charges against them, and the seizure of their money was later cancelled. At the same time, the revolution’s icons remained between prisons, exile, and prosecutions.
According to human rights organisations, experts, and observers, this led to general frustration among revolutionaries, especially since the humanitarian, economic, and political conditions are now worse than before Mubarak’s resignation. Despite Mubarak’s death, the “mock” trials of him, his two sons, and several police leaders, against the backdrop of killing protesters during the revolution, are still stuck in Egyptians’ minds. Perhaps the most prominent of these judgments is the issuance of the initial sentence of life imprisonment for Mubarak and his Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly, and the acquittal of the rest of the defendants and then the annulment of the judgment and their acquittal during Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s era. More important than the trauma of him entering prison and then enjoying the relative calm before his death, he “lived until he witnessed the demise of the revolution that toppled him,” and this was “cruel consolation,” according to the Washington Post.
Hossam Badrawi, the last secretary-general of the dissolved National Democratic Party, recounts in his book The Man of the Storm some of the circumstances surrounding Mubarak’s decision to step down and assign the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the country’s affairs. Badrawi said, “He met with Mubarak and offered him his vision of holding early elections and transferring power, which the former president rejected, and confirmed that he would leave after eight months and would not run.” Badrawi confirmed that the options before Mubarak were few and that he had no choice but to announce his resignation. Still, he did not agree to read the statement of stepping down himself and asked his deputy Omar Suleiman to deliver the speech instead.
Al-Sisi is following in Mubarak’s footsteps, even if they did not have a strong relationship. Mubarak answered the question of the Egyptian broadcaster Mumtaz al-Qatt, when he visited him in hospital in his last days and said that he had not met al-Sisi directly after 2011. But all the reports that came to him when he was president unanimously agree that al-Sisi, who was working at the time in the Egyptian intelligence service, was a very calm and strict person with a good vision. Under Mubarak, al-Sisi rarely appeared in the media. His first appearance was when Morsi appointed him as defence minister in August 2012.
In spite of this, al-Sisi learned the wrong lesson from Mubarak, according to journalist Francisco Serrano, in an article published by Foreign Policy magazine, in which he said that al-Sisi “appears like Mubarak’s disciple.” Serrano believes that al-Sisi is afraid of demonstrators returning to the streets, as seen through the “the level of violence practiced against Egyptians in recent years.” He points out that despite Mubarak’s tyrannical rule, he used to leave some small spaces to control the opposition, and “despite the absence of a political vision, they understood the importance of having pressure valves.” But al-Sisi has limited all forms of opposition to the belief that these forms, whatever their size, were Mubarak’s fatal mistake. Egypt’s current dictatorial ruler has chosen another path, which is to erase any space for public debate. While Egyptian prisons are filled with tens of thousands of political prisoners, Cairo is waging war against doctors and health workers, as hundreds of doctors and health workers have died since the beginning of the coronavirus. The shortage of the protective equipment and respirators needed by doctors and COVID-19 patients revealed the health system’s problems.
Al-Sisi’s suppression of Egyptian doctors is far from an attempt to conceal his weaknesses and shortcomings, as the government is specifically pursuing doctors because they revealed to the world the flaws of the Egyptian government in general. Also, projects that express vanity, such as building a new capital that al-Sisi ordered in the desert at the cost of $66 billion, will not help change ordinary people’s lives in Egypt. Strangely enough, al-Sisi refuses to acknowledge that the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak was the result of persecution.
On the external level, al-Sisi tried to preserve his relationship with Western countries, the United States and Israel, as Mubarak did, who was respected by the West, for preserving the peace treaty with Israel. Although Mubarak carried out the first air strike against Israel in the October 1973 War, until he acceded to the presidency after the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat, he obtained the support of the West through his commitment to the peace treaty with Israel signed by his predecessor, and pressure for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Mubarak was a man with a military background, but he stressed his country’s commitment to international peace, including his mediation between Israel and the Palestinians, his role in the Gulf War, as well as his keenness to build strong relations with Arab leaders. As a result of the similarities between the tyrannical regimes of Mubarak and al-Sisi, a solution had to be made. Still, so far, the Egyptian people have not been able to unite again against al-Sisi, despite the Egyptian contractor and artist Mohamed Ali calling for widespread protests.
Egyptian opponents abroad say that they have not given up on acting after the formation of the Union of Egyptian National Forces, a new alliance of forces opposing the Egyptian regime and a representative before international and regional bodies. The founders of the union chose 11 February to announce the union on the grounds that it represents to Egyptians the joy of Mubarak’s departure and to affirm a major demand, that al-Sisi be toppled. The most prominent goals are to finish what the January revolution started – achieving a dignified life, freedom and social justice, the immediate release of detainees, and securing successful transitional justice.