In his final speech to Egyptians, on the night of February 11, 2011, the night he stepped down after 30 years in power, Hosni Mubarak said more than once that history would deliver the justice he believed was denied to him by his own people, who gathered in Tahrir Square for two weeks calling for a regime change.
In his numerous court appearances, in the past nine years, the former Egyptian president, who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, maintained that all he did during his long years in power was in the interest of his country and, again, that history will acknowledge his legacy. Or shall we say legacies?
To reflect on the life and times of Mubarak, one cannot escape the fact that he was a military officer who often ruled with an autocratic style, synonymous with the style of the military officers who ruled many countries in the Arab world since the 1950s. With the support of the army and his once-powerful ruling party, the National Party, Mubarak managed to steer Egypt, the largest Arab country and a nation of 100 million, in a direction that was actually reflective of his own personal evolution — moving from an era of wars with Israel and active regional diplomacy much of the last three decades of the 20th century, to economically focused, inward looking society in his last 10 years of power.
His [Mubarak's] critics will always point to the autocratic rule...Yet, years from now, historians will look back at a man who many a time rose to the occasion and stood up for what he thought was the best for his country.
However, the history that Mubarak was so much fascinated with will certainly acknowledge at least three of his ‘legacies’.
As a commander of the Egyptian Air Force and deputy minister of defence in 1973, he played a key role in planning and executing the surprise attack on Israeli forces on October 6. He reportedly commanded the first fighter jet that crossed the Suez Canal, leading the way for the ground forces that seized and destroyed Israel’s Bar Lev Line of fortifications on the eastern bank of the canal. In the eyes of millions of Egyptians, Mubarak was a war hero. The Hero of the Crossing; as he became famously known in the official and popular literature during his years of power.
Another legacy of Mubarak is his key role in the liberation of Kuwait from the 1990 Iraqi invasion. Coincidently Mubarak passed away on exactly the eve of the 29th anniversary of the Kuwait liberation. On August 2, 1990, then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain decided to invade his small neighbour. Iraq and Kuwait were in some sort of a dispute over oilfields. Nobody expected the matter to lead to a full-fledged invasion. However, being the master of miscalculations that he was, Saddam sent hundreds of thousands of troops in the wee hours of August 2. By sunset that day, Kuwait was totally under Saddam’s control.
Arab face to US coalition to liberate Kuwait
The Arab world woke up that Thursday to the shocking news. It took some governments two days to fathom and react to the unprecedented inter-Arab aggression. Not Mubarak. He called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo in which he managed to get a decision to support an international military alliance assembled in Saudi Arabia to liberate Kuwait. The Egyptian forces were the first Arab troops to join the coalition, led by the US.
While some Arab leaders were reluctant to support the coalition (some of them even refused to condemn the invasion), Mubarak was decisive and instrumental in giving the US-led coalition an Arab face, something very important for the Arab public opinion, sharply divided at the time. The Hero of the Crossing showed his leadership mettle again.
What could be considered another enduring legacy of Mubarak was actually his final act; stepping down from power in 2011. As the protests started to gather momentum in Egypt following the overthrow of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier, Mubarak in his own ‘father of the nation’ style, tried to calm things down. He promised things will change and even appointed a new government. When all that didn’t work, he went on television and announced that he was leaving office.
Unlike Bin Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia, Mubarak told Egyptians “this is my country, I was born here, I fought here and I will die here”. He chose to step down, to keep Egypt united and stable rather than send the army on the street to shoot his way back into office. One cannot even begin to imagine how Egypt could have been had he decided to fight; let’s say like Bashar Al Assad and Muammar Gaddafi. Again, the patriotic Mubarak, the Hero of the Crossing again sacrificed for his country.
Many people have many different opinions on Mubarak. His critics will always point to the autocratic rule, the alleged corruption and the absence of western-style democracy. Yet, years from now, historians will look back at a man who many a time rose to the occasion and stood up for what he thought was the best for his country. And perhaps he will finally get that justice he was talking about the night he stepped down.