Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years until he was ousted in a popular uprising against corruption and autocracy, died on Tuesday at the age of 91.
A partner of the West in fighting Islamists, Mubarak presided over an era of stagnation and repression at home and was an early victim of the “Arab Spring” revolutions that swept the region.
He died in intensive care a few weeks after undergoing surgery. Egypt’s presidency and armed forces mourned him as a hero for his role in the Yom Kippur War and the former air force officer will be given a military funeral.
Three days of public mourning were declared and state television played clips of Mubarak with a black ribbon at the corner of the screen. He is expected to be buried on Wednesday.
There was no immediate reaction from Western capitals, which had valued Mubarak for preserving the 1979 peace treaty with Israel signed by his predecessor Anwar al-Sadat.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, hailed Mubarak as a friend.
“On behalf of the citizens and Government of Israel, I would like to express deep sorrow on the passing of President Hosni Mubarak. President Mubarak, my personal friend, was a leader who led his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel. I met with him many times. I was impressed by his commitment; we will continue to follow this common path,” Netanyahu said.
FOREIGN MINISTER ISRAEL KATZ called Mubarak a “true leader” and an “Egyptian patriot.”
“The State of Israel appreciates Mubarak’s commitment to security and stability in our region for the benefit of both peoples and for the importance he attached to maintaining the peace agreement with Israel,” Katz said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas mourned Mubarak and praised his support for the Palestinian cause and people to achieve their rights, according to a statement issued by the PA president’s office in Ramallah.
Palestinian factions did not immediately comment on the death of Mubarak. It was also not clear whether Abbas or any Palestinian official would attend the funeral of Mubarak.
The United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter that the Arab world had lost a statesman who held significant national and historic positions.
During his time in office, Mubarak made only one brief visit to Israel in 1995, after former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. But he hosted all the Israeli leaders in Egypt.
Prof. Yoram Meital, an expert on Middle East affairs at Ben-Gurion University, told The Jerusalem Post that Mubarak was “among the few leaders who were aware of the Oslo process.”
Oslo I was signed in Washington in 1993, but Oslo II was signed in Taba, Egypt and there is a story that it was Mubarak, the host of the event, who physically pushed former Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat to the table to sign the document.
“Mubarak did not hesitate to take Yasser Arafat... and push him very hard to accept peace with Israel,” Meital said. Mubarak was also instrumental in the implementation of some of the Oslo agreement’s articles, he added.
Mubarak’s position and that of his country as a go-between party between Israelis and Palestinians, also gave Egypt credit in Washington’s eyes, Meital said, adding that it was an important part of Egyptian’s international diplomatic strategy.
From the start, Mubarak perceived his role to be one that maintained stability and security for Egypt, which meant that he continued the authoritarian ruling system he inherited, Meital explained.
This included “the strategic commitment to the peace treaty with Israel and to the close relationship with the US,” Meital said. But while he strengthened security and intelligence cooperation with Israel, he did little to promote normalized ties between the two peoples, Meital said and went on to say Mubarak never stopped that security cooperation even during sensitive times, such as during the two Intifadas and the two Lebanon wars. At most he would recall the Egyptian ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations.
DURING HIS LAST YEARS, as he made preparations for his son to inherit the presidency, he was painted as a corrupt leader who ruled through cronyism, Meital said. He continued, “Mubarak will be remembered in Egypt as one of the hero of the October 1973 war, and at the same time as a president who led Egypt with an iron arm, suppressed the opposition, and headed a corrupt regime.”
Mubarak, who was arrested two months after being forced out by the protesters who crammed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011, spent several years in jail and military hospitals.
He was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day revolt, but was freed in 2017 after being cleared of the charges.
He was, however, convicted – along with his two sons – of diverting public funds to upgrade family properties in 2015. They were sentenced to three years in jail.
Egyptians, who often complained about corruption, oppression and unemployment under Mubarak, had mixed feelings about their former leader as news of his death spread.
“We had good and bad memories,” said Sherin Saad, a woman in her 30s, who criticized the graft and the privatization of public firms, which his critics say enriched the elite.
Atef Bayoumi, walking on the Nile Corniche in central Cairo, said: “He was a patriot. Regardless of the final events, he surely did good things for the country.”
In contrast, Gamal Eid, a prominent human rights activist, said on Twitter: “My condolences to all tyrants, they lost one today!”
Mubarak did not leave the country after his overthrow, unlike Tunisia’s Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled with his family to Saudi Arabia after being ousted in the first Arab Spring protests.
In contrast, the Mubarak family has stayed in Egypt since 2011 but kept a low profile.
Mubarak had always maintained his innocence and said history would judge him as a patriot who served his country selflessly, but for many Egyptians his time in power was a period of autocracy and crony capitalism.
His successor, Mohamed Mursi, lasted only a year in office, however, after mass protests in 2013 led to his overthrow by then defense chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who now serves as Egypt’s president.
Mubarak-era figures, meanwhile, are gradually being cleared of charges, and laws limiting political freedoms have raised fears among activists that the old regime is back.
Many Egyptians have credited Sisi for restoring stability, but activists say that his relentless crackdown on dissent is worse than anything under Mubarak.
Announcing Mubarak’s death, Egyptian TV criticized him for economic mismanagement. New cities he had created in the desert lacked a “comprehensive vision” while he had spent billions on new roads which the government later had to repair.
Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said that the coverage was seeking to highlight corruption under Mubarak and to curb nostalgia for his time in power.