Last Updated: Tue Jul 03, 2012 06:52 am (KSA) 03:52 am (GMT)

Mubarak’s legacy

Salama Ahmed Salama

As Egypt’s former president grapples simultaneously with prison and old age, the thought that death may be the most merciful ending is hard to resist. Hosni Mubarak faced justice only reluctantly, put on trial by the very men who had once sworn loyalty to him, and who found it awkward to see their former chief fall so dramatically from grace.

But mighty men, including the rulers of this country, have met disgraceful ends in the past. In the past two centuries, three of Mohamed Ali's descendants were forced out of office. Egypt's first president, Mohamed Naguib, was also held under house arrest by the very men who placed him in power.

Mubarak is only an anomaly in that he was the first one to be put on trial, and the first to be convicted. His fate, it is hoped, will send a powerful message to all that the days of tyranny are over in this land.

Tyranny may go back centuries, if not millennia, in Egypt. The ancients and the Graeco-Roman rulers often claimed divine ascendance to shore up their rule. The autocratic ways of the Ottomans are also well documented. With tyranny come corruption, nepotism and excesses we no longer wish to see in this country.

Mubarak's fate has been hotly disputed. Many are pleased to see him pay for the years of transgression, while some feel sympathy for him on account of the sudden shift in his fortunes.

Sentiments aside, Mubarak's fate is going to change the political map in the region. The man whom Israel's former defence minister, Ben-Eliezer, once described as an asset is no longer around to soften up the impact of Israeli policies. He created a school of thought in Arab politics, a school that gave Israel a strategic leeway beyond its wildest dreams.

While Mubarak kept saying that the 1973 War with Israel was the last of wars, Israel was waging war all around. It bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1979, invaded Lebanon in 1982, repressed the Palestinian Intifada in 1982, assassinated Palestinian leaders in Tunisia, bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, invaded Gaza in 2008, killed the Hamas intelligence chief in Dubai in 2009, and so on.

Egypt, meanwhile, sold Israel gas at cut price, and Mubarak's sons may have received considerable kickbacks in the deal. Agreements that made Israel's life easy were passed in parliament with as little publicity as possible. Deals were made while the media and the public were kept in the dark.

This was the Mubarak legacy, and other Arab countries, just as dictatorial as Egypt, followed through. In the end, Israel managed to hold trade and other deals with Arab countries, including Qatar and Mauritania, without official announcement and without much debate.

To repay us, Israel turned the Gulf against the Iranians, the Shias against the Sunnis, and generally strove to keep us divided.

Under Mubarak, our health and education policies stumbled, democracy was threadbare, and political parties were little more than window dressing. Mubarak ruled as a tyrant, and didn't expect to face justice, at least at the hand of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the very body he put in power before stepping down.

His legacy and his fate will remain relevant. Mubarak is teetering on the verge of death while power is changing hands. A new guard is coming to power, and a new era is beginning. Let's hope that the men who have been thrust into power will remember the Mubarak legacy and how it ended. Let's hope that Mohamed Mursi and his friends will learn the lesson.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Egypt’s al-Ahram Weekly on the June 28 - July 4 edition

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