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International
Last Updated: February 11, 2011
History Upends Icon of Stability in Egypt
By Michael Slackman

Mohammed Hosni Mubarak’s legacy was supposed to be stability. During almost three decades in power, he rejected bold action in favor of caution. He took half steps at economic liberalization, preserved the peace with Israel, gave his police the power to arrest without charge and allowed only the veneer of democracy to take hold.

But history upended Mr. Mubarak and in the end, which came as suddenly and surprisingly as his unlikely elevation to the presidency, he was forced to resign. Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt rose up against him. The streets and squares filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters day and night until he could no longer deny the inescapable conclusion that in order to restore stability, he needed to go.

It was an unexpected epitaph for a military man who until recently was revered — and reviled — as Egypt’s modern day pharaoh, serving longer than any contemporary Egyptian leader since Mohammed Ali, the founder of the modern state.

“He’s the accident of history who brilliantly survived as the longest accidental ruler of Egypt,” said Emad Shahin, an Egyptian scholar at the University of Notre Dame who, like many other Egyptians living abroad, rushed to Tahrir Square in recent days to share in the historic moment.

During his final struggle to preserve power, Mr. Mubarak resorted to the tried and proven tactics that have been a hallmark of his authoritarian tenure. He unleashed the full force of the police, tried to manage the message by shutting down the Internet and censoring news reports, insisted the people in the street were manipulated by foreigners or Islamists, and presented a stark either-or equation — if he did not remain in power, the alternative would be far worse.

“The events of the last few days require us all as a people and as a leadership to choose between chaos and stability,” he said in a speech to the nation at the outbreak of the public revolt.

But his efforts failed, exposing Mr. Mubarak’s inability to grasp and deal with a new order that emerged during the years he was increasingly isolated in the presidential palace, surrounded by a small circle of loyal, like-minded advisers.

Egypt’s population had doubled to more than 80 million. Life had grown harder as the social contract between the state and citizens broke down. Satellite television and the Internet meant the state could no longer control what people knew, and so its narrative was often ignored or even mocked. The gap between rich and poor became greater, and politics had become less ideological and more about common demands: for freedom, democracy, social justice, rule of law and economic equality.

Mr. Mubarak’s government struggled to prevent people’s economic demands from becoming political, but in the end, that failed too. As he feared, the Egyptian people blamed the entire system.

 


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