Mubarak, Egypt's Ousted President, Is Dead At 91 For many Egyptians, Mubarak became the symbol of all that was wrong with their country. His nearly 30-year rule is recalled as a time of repression and economic stagnation for all but an elite few.

Mubarak, Egypt's Ousted President, Is Dead At 91

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Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak is dead at the age of 91, according to Egyptian state television. For many Egyptians, Mubarak was a symbol of all that was wrong with their country. His nearly 30-year rule is remembered as a time of political repression, widespread corruption and economic stagnation for everyone but an elite few. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Most Egyptians who took to the streets in early 2011 seeking Mubarak's ouster weren't even born when the former military pilot first became president, like 28-year-old Nazly Hussein (ph).

NAZLY HUSSEIN: My grandmother is exactly the same age as Hosni Mubarak. And I always think of her running the country, of her meeting my needs and my demands. It's impossible. He was really out of touch with people's demands, with people's aspirations, with people's - even people's aspirations for the country. He did not meet any of them.

NELSON: The disconnect between the Egyptian people and their longest-serving leader since the 19th century grew over time. Yet as long as his tenure was, Mubarak's legacy as uninspiring compared to his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, who plucked him from the ranks of the Egyptian Air Force and made him vice president. Sadat stunned the Arab world by signing a historic peace accord with Israel. But such boldness only reinforced Mubarak's caution, especially after Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: After stun grenades had been tossed at the platform, soldiers from the top of the truck opened fire.


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


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: 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.

NELSON: The attack, which also wounded Mubarak, helped shape his agenda as the new president. He made security an absolute priority, arresting and imprisoning Islamists and their supporters across the country. Analyst Diaa Rashwan says people forget that many Egyptians were happy when he first took office. They supported his tough stance on Islamists, who in the '90s launched a campaign of attacks on government officials and foreign tourists.

DIAA RASHWAN: When Hosni 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.

NELSON: Mubarak released some of the more secular prisoners arrested by Sadat. He transformed Egypt into a market economy, opening up the country to badly needed loans and foreign investors. The new president also spoke of political reform, promising to serve only two six-year terms. But Mubarak broke that promise when he ran for a third term in 1993. Six years later, he ran for a fourth term. Arbitrary arrests and other civil rights abuses were rampant as he continued his crackdown against the Islamists. Eventually, U.S. administrations began to pressure the Egyptian leader, finding his support of Israel and stance against terrorism did not mitigate his human rights abuses at home. In 2005, Mubarak declared that Egypt's constitution would be amended to allow for the country's first multicandidate presidential election.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) Kifaya.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting) Kifaya.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) Haram.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting) Haram.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) Kifaya.

NELSON: But that only stirred up more Egyptian protests. Participants campaigned explicitly against Mubarak for the first time, shouting kifaya, the Arabic word for enough. Nevertheless, Mubarak at age 77 ran for a fifth term with a slick and expensive political campaign organized by his powerful younger son, Gamal. The elder Mubarak is heard here through a translator.


HOSNI MUBARAK: (Through interpreter) 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.

NELSON: Despite earlier promises of more openness, observers say the election was marred by widespread fraud and intimidation. Not surprisingly, Mubarak cruised to an easy victory and pledged economic and social reforms. Yet analyst Mohammed Sayed (ph) says by this point, Egyptians didn't expect any follow-through.

MOHAMMED SAYED: We have a rampant corruption. We have a society that is totally alienated. Well, unfortunately, he was never really a philosophe. But 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.

NELSON: Corruption raged during Mubarak's latter years in office. His allies in government and business became wealthy through graft and shady deals. And many lower-ranking civil servants demanded bribes from Egyptians seeking services. Joblessness was also a growing problem. The most popular jobs for young Egyptian men who didn't emigrate were with the security forces, which operated with impunity. In a 2008 documentary aired by the Al-Jazeera channel, analyst Osama Harb (ph) noted that in a country of 70 million people, there was a policeman for roughly every 40 Egyptians.

OSAMA HARB: Eight hundred 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.

NELSON: Weeks after the revolution in nearby Tunisia in January 2011, Egyptians took their frustrations to the streets and confronted the security forces.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Yelling in non-English language).

NELSON: Nearly 900 protesters were killed before the police fled their posts. The dreaded state security force that was pivotal in Mubarak's campaign to quash his enemies was ultimately disbanded. Mubarak tried offering concessions. He appointed intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his first-ever vice president. He also promised not to stand for reelection or to promote his son Gamal for the office. But the protesters wouldn't relent. They wanted Mubarak gone. And under pressure from them and the military from which he came, he resigned in February 2011. In June 2012, he was convicted for having a role in those deaths and sentenced to life in prison. Analyst and author Hugh Roberts (ph) believes Mubarak will be remembered most for spearheading Egypt's long and slow atrophy.

HUGH ROBERTS: So that, 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.

NELSON: But protester Nazly Hussein says she'll also remember the former leader for uniting Egyptians to fight for their rights.

HUSSEIN: Had it not been for Hosni Mubarak's presence, people would not have been united. And by the end of the day, it was really obvious that these people are not going to go home until they bring him down.

NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

KING: NPR's Peter Kenyon contributed to this report.


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