Al Jazeera Analysis – 2011-01-29 00:26:03
Analysis: Upheaval in Egypt
(January 28, 2011) â€“ Experts speak to Al Jazeera about the protests and what they mean.
Profile: Hosni Mubarak
The Egyptian president has ruled over the country since 1981
CAIRO (January 26, 2011) — Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s third and longest-serving president, succeeded Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated on October 6, 1981 while attending a military parade to commemorate the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Born in 1928 in Munofiya governorate in the Nile River delta, Mubarak exhibited a leaning toward the military. A graduate of the Air Force academy, he would serve as its director between 1966 and 1969.
In 1972, Sadat appointed him as Air Force commander; he would later receive accolades from the late president over the Egyptian Air Force’s accomplishments during the conflict with Israel.
In 1975, Sadat appointed Mubarak to the post of vice-president and gave him his first taste of mainstream politics as a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). It was not clear why Sadat chose Mubarak, although some believe it was in reward for Mubarak’s effective tenure as chief of the air force.
When Mubarak assumed power, Egypt was isolated from Arab and Muslim countries, many of whom had broken off diplomatic ties after Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
In one of its greatest diplomatic defeats, Egypt was kicked out of the Arab League and its headquarters were moved from Cairo to Tunisia. Mubarak’s first foreign policy mandate was to bring his country back into the Arab fold and to resume ties with major players in the region.
His first success was in building a relationship with the then influential Arab leader Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, whose country was locked in a bloody war with Iran. Egypt signed on as Iraq’s ally in the conflict, providing military assistance and expertise to Baghdad.
By the time the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Egypt had successfully emerged from its isolation. In 1990, in a move spearheaded by Iraq and Yemen, the Arab League headquarters were returned to Cairo. But the Arab rapprochement was short-lived as Egypt opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
Mubarak urged Saddam to withdraw his forces from Kuwait; when Baghdad failed to do so, Egypt joined the US-led international effort to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
Egypt’s military and logistical role in the US-led coalition during the first Gulf War earned it Washington’s favour, which in turn pressured G8 countries to write off much of Cairo’s foreign debt. The 1990s saw an increase in US financial aid to Egypt and revived US-Egyptian strategic talks. The talks resulted in a strategic alliance between the two countries and the implementation of the US-Egypt Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement.
The agreement was vital for Egypt, which is known to have considerable high-calibre manpower, but suffers enduring financial problems.
One of the main objectives of the US-Egyptian alliance was a commitment to the peace process in the Middle East. Throughout the 1990s, Egypt became the main peace broker between the Israelis and Arabs, including the Palestinians. In 1994, Jordan followed Egypt’s diplomatic route and signed a peace treaty with Israel.
In successive years, the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, which lies on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula — an area seized by Israel in 1967 but returned in the 1980s as part of the peace treaty — hosted several peace summits. Arab press metaphorically nicknamed the resort the Arabian Camp David.
In 2008, Mubarak managed to draw up a lull between Hamas and Israel. Mubarak’s government is also currently playing a major role in Hamas-Fatah talks in Cairo for Palestinian national reconciliation.
While Mubarak’s foreign policies long dominated the Middle East, his domestic record was not nearly as successful. Mubarak refused to lift a martial law decree, in force since Sadat’s assassination, which allowed security forces to detain civilians without warrants and to try them in military courts.
Opposition groups say the decree has allowed the government to crack down on political expression.
In June 1995, Mubarak survived an assassination attempt on his motorcade while he was attending an Organisation of African Unity Summit in Ethiopia.
Egyptian authorities accused al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a violent group which had targeted Egyptians and tourists in previous attacks in Egypt in a bid to overthrow the government, of orchestrating the attack.
Shortly after Mubarak’s return to Cairo, the authorities cracked down on Islamist groups, imprisoning hundreds and leading human rights organisations to accuse the government of human rights violations.
In February 2005, Mubarak called on parliament to amend Article 76 of the constitution to allow multiple candidates to run in elections scheduled for later that year. However, opposition groups said the reforms imposed new restrictions on independent presidential candidates that were not fielded by the ruling NDP.
Nevertheless, elections were held in September 2005, and for the first time, Egyptians were able to vote for multiple candidates. Mubarak won the elections with 88 per cent of the vote.
Since his win, opposition and civil rights organisations have accused Mubarak of planning to pass the presidency on to his youngest son Gamal, who was appointed in 2002 as secretary-general of the NDP’s policy committee.
The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement founded in 1928, is considered one of the most effective and popular opposition groups in Egypt and is perhaps Mubarak’s greatest anathema.
Banned as a political party, the Brotherhood have persistently called for political reforms and voiced strong opposition to Mubarak’s continuing presidency. Hundreds of its members, including senior leaders, have routinely been arrested.
Poverty and Corruption
Under Mubarak’s liberal economic policies, business in Egypt has experienced an unprecedented boom in the past few years, most notably in the real estate sector.
However, Egypt is still plagued by rampant unemployment, with millions living in poverty.
The dichotomy of classes in Egypt has exacerbated criticism that Mubarak, and his son Gamal, favour a group of businessmen within the NDP.
Opposition groups say the NDP’s business cartel have used their authority to monopolise the country’s wealth, while most of the Egyptian people are living in despair.
The NDP has denied these accusations repeatedly and stressed that the party is open to all Egyptians.
Egyptian opposition groups also blame Mubarak’s government for not doing enough to fight corruption. According to the corruption perceptions index compiled by Global Coalition Against Corruption, Egypt ranked 105 in the list of least corrupted countries in 2006, tied with Burkina Faso and Djibouti, and 115 in 2008. Finland was seen as the least corrupt nation in the world.
Mubarak is also accused by opposition groups of failing to fulfil the promise he made during his 2005 election campaign to increase job opportunities.
This accusation has been denied by the NDP’s economic committee, which claims that the government managed to reduce the number of unemployed Egyptians from 2.5 million in 2003 to 1.9 in 2008.
Mubarak has also come under severe criticism for cracking down on the local press. Despite some progress — the press, theatre and cinema have become bolder in touching on issues once considered taboo, including serious criticism of the government and ruling party — critiquing the president is still considered a red line.
In September 2007, several opposition journalists and editors were arrested for “harming the public interest” by publishing articles which a judge said implied that the NDP was dictatorial.
Mohammed Sherdy, the deputy editor of Al-Wafd newspaper, told Al Jazeera in 2007 that the sentencing stands as a message to writers and journalists in Egypt that they are not allowed to exercise their right to criticise the government.
Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of the opposition newspaper al-Dustour, was arrested in March 2008 and imprisoned in September for publishing reports suggesting that the president was ill. Eissa’s arrest cast doubts over just how free the Egyptian press really is.
Although pardoned by Mubarak, Eissa went on to criticise the lack of press freedom in his country.
“This verdict isn’t just about freedom of the press and freedom in this country. This proves that anything concerning the president is a sacred and untouchable matter,” he said.
“In this country, it’s normal for journalists to be jailed while businessmen are freed,” he said in reference to an acquittal in August of five defendants over a 2006 ferry sinking in which more than 1,000 people died.
Speculation is running high over whether Mubarak will nominate himself for the next presidential elections in 2011 or whether he will leave the scene for his son Gamal.
No official announcement was made regarding the elections at the NDP’s conference in November 2009, further fuelling public speculation of rifts within the party.
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