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President Mubarak Brought Stability to Egypt, at a Price

  • Mariama Diallo

Egypt's President Mubarak attends a meeting in Cairo, Jan 30, 2011

Egypt's President Mubarak attends a meeting in Cairo, Jan 30, 2011

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak rose to power as commander of the Egyptian Air Force during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. He has been ruling the country for almost three decades. Some say he has kept Egypt stable. But many others - protesters and opposition members - are asking him to step aside.

As Vice-President, Hosni Mubarak witnessed one of the most horrifying events in Egypt's history: the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 at a military parade. His assassins were Islamic extremists in the army.

David Ottaway was Washington Post Bureau Chief in Cairo. "I was in the stands when Sadat was assassinated, watched Mubarak get out from a pile of chairs, shake the dirt off his hat and was totally stunned by what had just happened," he said.

Mr. Mubarak was sworn in as president eight days later. Ottaway describes him as stubborn and says he never really seemed interested in building a relationship with foreign media. "He was always taciturn. His answers were somewhat cryptic and you quite didn’t know what he meant when he spoke. He offered no real vision other than stability for his country," he said.

Fast forward 30 years later.

For most of those years, Egypt was stable. Cairo played an important role in maintaining an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that was unpopular at home.

Scorned in the Arab world because of the treaty, Egypt was eventually accepted back into the Arab fold.



The Mubarak government worked to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

It was a close ally of the United States.

Many say stability in Egypt came at a high price.

Prominent voices were imprisoned for criticizing Mr. Mubarak.

The president, surrounded by stepped up security, survived several assassination attempts. He said he was not afraid, once saying, "Nobody's going to live forever."

In the most recent parliamentary elections, the president's National Democratic Party crushed the opposition amid allegations of voter intimidation and vote rigging.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular opposition movement, faced constant arrest and extended detentions.

Recently, Mr. Mubarak's apparent grooming of his son Gamal as his successor drew resentment from average Egyptians.

And economic reforms widened the gap between rich and poor.

"Economically, the reforms they began in 2004 produced tremendous results because the GDP of Egypt more than doubled in four years between 2004 and 2008. So the economy was booming but the people at the bottom were not benefitting from the economic boom. That's the background to the turmoil taking place now," said Ottaway.

Then came Tunisia, and the revolt there. Egyptians saw it and wondered why they couldn't do the same.

The protests began January 25 and show no signs of dying down.

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