Mubarak's legacy – and his downfall: A stale stability
Unlike his iconic predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, who left clear imprints on Egypt, Hosni Mubarak will probably be remembered more for unfulfilled expectations.
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As the 18-day uprising that began on Jan. 25 spread, wildcat strikes broke out at military-owned companies, at state-owned factories in the delta, and along the economically crucial Suez Canal. Egyptian laborers have been in a state of simmering upheaval since 2006, and probably played as much of a role in his downfall as the democracy protesters who massed in Tahrir Square in Cairo.Skip to next paragraph
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While some have done well for themselves under Mubarak’s regime, income inequality has soared since he took power, as has inflation. Twenty percent of the population lives in poverty, and another 20 percent barely above it. Unemployment is high.
“According to most indicators people’s living have gotten better, but not nearly as much as people would like,” says Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. “Even if the economic indicators are up, people’s daily lives are much more of a struggle.”
In the West, Mubarak will be remembered as a steady, dependable US ally. He successfully dealt with a wave of terrorism in the 1990s, reliably repressed the peaceful Muslim Brotherhood at home, and assisted Western efforts to pursue Al Qaeda. He and Suleiman participated in the US extraordinary rendition program after Sept. 11, in which terrorist suspects were transferred to countries like Egypt with a reputation for harsher interrogation methods – human rights activists say torture – than America does.
But those positions did not win him favor domestically. Mubarak was not a particularly popular leader, and built an impressive police, security, and intelligence empire that controlled the population through fear and a constant state of emergency that gave him sweeping powers.
Samer Shehata, professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, says Mubarak differed from his predecessors in that he did not have fervent supporters. "Nasser and Sadat got people emotional. Even among his [Mubarak's] supporters, he doesn't attract very much emotion," he says. "He [was not] a loved leader."
Abroad, Nasser was leader of the Pan-Arab movement, and Sadat shared a Nobel prize for making peace with Israel. But Mubarak never made any significant moves on the international stage. Though Egypt was once a key regional mediator, in recent years Mubarak was unable to negotiate even Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
It is just one more thing Mubarak could have accomplished, but didn't, say analysts. "He could have done a lot of things," says Dr. Shobaki. "He stayed in power for 30 years in a stable period.... Egypt was not occupied, Egypt did not go to war with Israel. And he did nothing."
IN PICTURES: Exclusive Monitor photos of Egypt's turmoil