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Hosni Mubarak’s death and despotic rule, briefly explained

The former dictator died Tuesday at age 91. Here’s a brief look back at his legacy.

A file photo dated on April 13, 2013 shows Former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak is seen during his trial in Cairo, Egypt. He died on Tuesday at the age of 91.
Mohammed Hossam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s long-time former dictator, died Tuesday at the age of 91.

To understand just what a huge role Mubarak played in Egypt, you need to go back to January 25, 2011.

On that Tuesday, thousands of demonstrators packed the streets of Cairo’s central Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak’s removal from office, as they had done every day for over two weeks.

“All of us, one hand, asking for one thing: leave, leave, leave,” the protesters sang.

But after 18 long, painful days of protest, Mubarak stepped down. The revolution had succeeded.

The protests were motivated by a variety of grievances including arbitrary government arrests, widespread poverty, extreme economic inequality, the rising prices of goods, and rampant unemployment among the middle and lower classes.

In the years before the protests began, Amnesty International reported that the government “continued to use state of emergency powers to detain peaceful critics and opponents. … Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread in police cells, security police detention centers and prisons, and in most cases were committed with impunity.”

To put it simply: The people were tired of the ruling government’s abuse and corruption, and they demanded change.

Egyptian demonstrators protest in central Cairo to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms on January 25, 2011.
Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Like the rest of the revolutions in the region that came to be known as the Arab Spring, the protests against Mubarak were met with immense violence from the government’s security forces.

During the demonstrations, the Egyptian security forces killed at least 840 protestors and injured numerous others according to an Amnesty report. The fatalities included deaths by snipers at the hands of Egyptian police. All in just 18 days.

The brutality continued until Mubarak’s then-Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that the dictator had finally stepped down from office.

Who was Hosni Mubarak, and what is the “state of emergency law” that he imposed?

Mubarak’s long journey to becoming Egypt’s longtime dictator essentially began with the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Mubarak was Sadat’s vice president at the time, and found himself unexpectedly thrust into the leadership role.

After he took office, Mubarak reimposed a “state of emergency law” in the country that granted the government the power to restrict freedom of assembly, arrest anyone deemed suspicious and try them in “special” state security courts, and monitor and confiscate publications, among other things.

The law — which remained in place for the next 30 years (as did Mubarak) — allowed for corruption and political repression to sweep the nation. The 2010 death of Khaled Said, an activist whom many deemed the “martyr of the state of emergency,” provides an instructive look at how the law enabled brutality in Egypt.

According to a report by Amnesty International, police dragged the 28-year-old Said out of an Internet café in Alexandria and beat him in public until he died. This prompted protesters to take to the streets, chanting: “We are all Khaled Said.”

The removal of the emergency law is one of the many things that the protestors demanded in 2011.

The corruption and abuses didn’t end after Mubarak stepped down

In 2012, Mubarak received a life sentence for his crimes, but that was later overturned in an appeals court for lack of evidence. Later, in 2014, he was again put on trial and sentenced to three years in prison — not for all of the above atrocities, but for embezzlement. He was released in 2017.

Although the public succeeded in defeating Mubarak, they didn’t succeed in defeating government corruption and abuse. The current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is seen as continuing Mubarak’s legacy.

On June 30, 2012, Mohammed Morsi, took office as Egypt’s fifth president after he beat his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, in the country’s first democratic elections. His time in office didn’t last long, however. Just one year later, on July 3, 2013, he was removed in a coup led by al-Sisi, who then was the Egyptian army chief general.

Al-Sisi resigned from the military and ran in the 2014 elections. He was sworn into office on June 8, 2014.

According to a 2015 report by Human Rights Watch, “since al-Sisi came to power, the authorities have continued to aggressively enforce a de facto protest ban and routinely dispersed anti-government demonstrations with force.”

“Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s regular police and National Security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape,” reads another Human Rights Watch report from 2017.

Despite this, al-Sisi ran for a second term in 2018 and won 97 percent of the vote, with “little to no opposition” in the elections.

But on September 20, 2019, demonstrators once again took to the streets of Egypt to protest a president they view as another corrupt figure.

And, unsurprisingly, the government responded with force.

Amnesty International reported that “the Egyptian security forces have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, rounded up journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, protesters and political figures in a bid to silence critics and deter further protests from taking place.”

To this day, nine years after Mubarak stepped down, the politics of Egypt remain corrupt, and the public remains unhappy with the person at the top.

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