That was 1995. Mubarak had been president for almost 14 years, succeeding to the role following the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat. Mubarak re-enacted the Emergency Laws almost immediately thereafter, veiling Egypt again in a slightly less-threatening name for Martial Law. At the time, he seemed unstoppable. He stood for four elections as proscribed by the Constitution and handily won between 96 and 99% of the vote each time. Egypt clearly loved its Uncle Hosni.
Yesterday morning, Mohammed Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for his failure to prevent the deaths of more than 800 Egyptians during the January 25th Revolution in 2011. Removed from power by popular demand, jailed and placed on trial, Mubarak is the first Arab leader to be toppled and tried for his crimes during the Jasmine Revolution. While the prosecution had demanded that he be hung for his crimes, the Court opted for the sentence of life imprisonment, and still further dismissed charges of corruption and profiteering against Mubarak and his sons. Mubarak will also be stripped of his military awards. While Egyptians cautiously welcomed a conviction of Mubarak, they worried that the verdict both left him alive and gave him an option to appeal. Accusations that the ruling military council had rushed the investigation and trial lead many to fear that an appeal will result in Mubarak going free.
Mubarak had overseen a fascinating three decades of Egyptian history, but was also responsible for much of what the recent revolution found fault with. While he rose to prominence under Sadat, it was Mubarak himself who oversaw Egypt’s readmission into the Arab League (following its expulsion for making peace with Israel), who engaged Egypt’s military in the campaign to free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, but also who spoke out against the second invasion of Iraq in 2003. Mubarak has survived 6 assassination attempts, and was reportedly grooming his son Gamal to be his successor. Using his connections as Air Marshal in the 1970s to negotiate military contracts, Mubarak is said to have started amassing a fortune, one that was further enhanced by corruption during his reign as President, reportedly in the range of $40-70 billion.
Yesterday morning’s announcement of the verdict was met with mixed emotions in Egypt. Cairo’s Tahrir Square was flooded with thousands of people who gathered to protest the verdict and the injustice of the charges Mubarak was not convicted of (some arguing that the conviction was the equivalent of an acquittal), as well as the complete acquittal of the military commanders who oversaw the killings in 2011. By Saturday evening, protests had broken out across Egypt.
The timing of yesterday's verdict falls in the middle of the contested presidential election to replace Mubarak, and hopefully end the reign of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The first round of the elections was held in late May, resulting in the need for a run-off election between Mubarak’s former Interior Minister, Ahmed Shafiq and the Salafist candidate, Mohammed Morsi. These results alone lead many to fear that the Janaury 25th revolution is in danger of amounting to nothing. The idea that a member of the Mubarak government could return to power is a chilling thought to many. Likewise, the idea that a Salafist become president while the Muslim Brotherhood controls parliament is considered equally threatening to the principals of the 2011 revolution. The next round of the election will start tomorrow when Egyptian expats begin voting.
But, for now, Uncle Hosni has been put to bed. The end of the reign of a brutal dictator who hid in plain site as an affectionate member of the Egyptian family. Less flattering murals have taken the place of his smiling visage. Who knows what uncle (or aunt?) will greet me on my next trip to Cairo, but for now I’d like to think that Egypt has made a small step towards a better future.By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist