Hosni Mubarak kept the peace with Israel

Mubarak kept the peace with Israel and maintained the stability of his country, all the while maneuvering to restore what he saw as Egypt’s rightful place in the Arab world.

SUPPORTERS OF former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak hold his photos near the main gate of a cemetery during his funeral ceremony, east of Cairo. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SUPPORTERS OF former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak hold his photos near the main gate of a cemetery during his funeral ceremony, east of Cairo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Muhammad Hosni Mubarak died on Tuesday. He was 91. The man who had presided over the destiny of Egypt for three decades – the longest period in his country’s history – before being ousted in the wake of the Arab spring, will be remembered as a proud Egyptian. He loved his people and they loved him in return, in spite of his fall from grace. They are giving him a grand send off, with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi officiating at his funeral.
Mubarak came to power after Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981. It was a difficult time for Egypt, boycotted by the Arab world while the Arab League had transferred its office from Cairo to Tunis. Israel had begun the evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula in accordance with the peace treaty, and there were some who called for a halt of the process, fearing that the new president would not honor Sadat’s commitments. They were wrong.
Both countries understood that it was their common and clear interest to go ahead and implement the treaty in full. Sinai was evacuated on April 25, 1982, leading to popular rejoicing, with millions of Egyptians celebrating and singing the song coined for the occasion titled “Sinai has Come Back to Us.”
The fact that Mubarak had been the commander in chief of the Egyptian Air Force during the Yom Kippur War, and that he had been instrumental in planning the operations which restored his country’s honor, was frequently mentioned during his long tenure. Though he was not a visionary like Sadat and would probably not have taken the step to make peace with Israel, he knew only too well the devastation brought by war and had no incentive to start another cycle of violence when the country was in such a parlous state.
Furthermore, he expected that the United States would fulfill its commitments and grant substantial assistance to Egypt. Such was indeed the case, and military and civilian grants amounted to two-and-a-half billion dollars a year, making Egypt, though not a NATO member, a favored ally – as was Israel.
The Egyptian president steered a reasoned course, never being tempted by military or economic adventures. He kept the peace with Israel and maintained the stability of his country, all the while maneuvering to restore what he saw as Egypt’s rightful place in the Arab world.
Relations with Israel were excellent. All Israeli prime ministers and foreign ministers came frequently to him for talks on the Palestinian issue and cooperation perspectives. The border between the two countries remained peaceful even in times of great tension, such as during the First Lebanon War and during two intifadas.
There were constant consultations between the two armies to coordinate efforts to fight smuggling and infiltrations. The president gave the IDF free rein to search for the bodies of soldiers and MIAs from the many wars, and the Egyptian Army helped willingly. Nevertheless, he refrained from letting relations between the peoples or for further normalization to develop.
Though as vice-president he had accompanied Sadat in his visit to Beersheba in May 1979 to celebrate the completion of the first phase of Sinai evacuation, he came to Israel only once when he became president. That was for the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, with whom he had enjoyed a warm relationship.
Unfortunately, Mubarak did nothing to curb a press increasingly hostile to Israel and resorting at times to violent antisemitic diatribes.
It was perhaps the cold peace that helped him dissolve the Arab boycott. EgyptAir, the national carrier, did not fly to Israel; a new company, Air Sinai, was formed to fly the route – which it does to this day. State companies were forbidden to trade with Israel in order not to be targeted by Arab boycott. Special permits were needed to travel to Israel, and they were only granted to private businessmen, mainly to promote deals in the field of energy, such as the contract to supply gas to Israel.
In 1989, Mubarak had the satisfaction to see the offices of the Arab League reopen in Cairo. His country was on the way to restore its position in the Arab world, but at a slower pace. The president had chosen to focus on economic and social issues and largely neglected what was happening abroad.
The Egyptian economy had been badly hit not only by the many wars but also by the socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had nationalized industry and dealt a fatal blow to private initiative. More than half the population lived under the poverty line, on less than two dollars a day.
Mubarak increased food and petrol subsidies, built housing for the poorer classes and improved the country’s infrastructures. At the same time, he was heavy-handed in maintaining order. The defense and security apparatus were all-pervasive, and the police tortured with impunity. The president created his own ruling party, which won election after election; he limited freedom of expression while permitting the existence of a few opposition papers.
He did not initiate much needed economic reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund, fearing they would cause drastic price rises, driving the people to street protests that would endanger the country’s stability. He had not forgotten the bread riots of January 1977 when Sadat canceled subsidies on that staple. Violence reached such a level that Sadat, who was then president, backed down and restored subsidies.
However, toward the end of his long reign, Mubarak did accept some IMF proposals with the immediate result that annual growth rose to 5%. It was too late. He was carried away by the so-called “Arab spring” raging throughout the Middle East in 2011.
His greatest achievement was keeping the peace with Israel and having it accepted by Egyptians, in spite of many reservations. That peace may be cold, but no one wants to go through another conflict. Today, President Sisi is focusing in economic problems and has successfully implemented the reforms Mubarak feared so greatly. Egypt is resolutely committed to its people’s welfare through development. It can only do so because Mr. Mubarak was wise enough to understand that peace was the key.