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Egypt's Mubarak: A Cautious, Heavy-Handed Ruler

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Egypt's Mubarak: A Cautious, Heavy-Handed Ruler

Egypt's Mubarak: A Cautious, Heavy-Handed Ruler

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, during his three decades in power, he was known around the world as an Arab leader who maintained peaceful relations with Israel, close ties with the United States through often-difficult times. He was also known for repression at home, and NPR's Peter Kenyon reviews his career.

PETER KENYON: As it happened, Sadat's boldness only reinforced Mubarak's natural caution, especially after the blood-soaked tragedy that elevated him to the presidency on October 6th, 1981.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

U: After stun grenades had been tossed at the platform, soldiers from the top of the truck opened fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

KENYON: Islamist assassins, enraged by Sadat's recognition of the Jewish state, gunned down the president before Mubarak's eyes as the men watched a military parade. This archival news account from the BBC was posted on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

U: A security guard fires at the fleeing assassins. Eleven people are killed, and 38 wounded. In the turmoil on the platform, Vice President Hosni Mubarak is hustled away. There are shouts that Sadat has been hit and Mubarak, the man groomed to succeed him, is afforded special attention.

KENYON: Analyst Dia Rashwan says so much time has passed that it's hard to remember how reassuring it was to see this sturdy military man take control of a country traumatized by Sadat's assassination and fearful of an Islamist coup.

M: And when Mr. Mubarak came, he came under very difficult conditions - a president was assassinated - and he succeeded to have his legitimacy from mainly the Egyptian establishment, from the Egyptian army, and also from his first measures.

KENYON: Journalist Mohamed Sayed Said gives Mubarak credit for quelling Islamist uprisings, and averting total economic collapse in Egypt. But he says the cost, in terms of democratic reform and human rights, was high.

M: His first tenure in office was more or less compassionate, but the situation got very, very bad and increasingly worse since 1986. Dramatic and massive abuses of human rights characterizes his regime, and caused the country a great toll in terms of human rights.

U: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: Suddenly, the demonstrations took on a new tone, as protesters campaigned explicitly against Mubarak for the first time, shouting the Arabic word for enough - kefaya.

U: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: For the slick and expensive political campaign organized by his younger son Gamal, who was rising quickly through the political ranks, the 77-year-old Hosni Mubarak announced in July 2005 that he would seek a fifth term in office. He's heard here through a translator.

INSKEEP: (Through Translator) I would never, ever let Egypt down, and for this sake, I announce that I am determined to be nominating myself in the coming presidential elections.

KENYON: Yet analyst Mohamed Saeed says by this point, Egyptians knew better than to expect real changes.

M: We have rampant corruption. We have a society that has totally alienated the infrastructure - the institution infrastructure of the country is totally fake and imposed from above. So I'd say that well, unfortunately, it was never really a philosophe. But you know, he was not even the kind of wise man that he could have been if he continued the way he started in his first tenure of office.

KENYON: In a 2008 documentary aired by the Al Jazeera satellite channel, analyst Osama Harb noted that in a country of 70 million people, there was a policeman for roughly every 40 Egyptians.

M: Eight hundred and fifty thousand officers and soldiers, 450,000 state security forces, 400,000 secret police - this is a president who's relying on an internal army in addition to the army itself.

KENYON: Analyst and author Hugh Roberts, formerly with the International Crisis Group, believes that the seeds of the long, slow decline that characterized much of Mubarak's tenure were sown in the chaos and bloodshed of Sadat's brutal murder.

M: Sadat, in some ways, had quite a certain charisma precisely because he did have big ideas. And I think that in a way, if Mubarak drew a lesson from Sadat's experience, it was that it's safer not to have big ambitions in terms of shaking things up.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

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