Remembering Egypt's Mubarak's legacy in Israel

Mubarak’s legacy is clouded by the repressive manner in which he ruled the impoverished country of over 97 million people, but tempered by the chaos that followed his ouster.

Hosni Mubarak (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hosni Mubarak
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt bid farewell on Wednesday to its longtime former president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country with an iron first for 30 years until he was ousted in 2011’s popular uprising, an early victim of the so-called Arab Spring. He spent many of the subsequent years in jail and military hospitals before being freed to his home in 2017.
Three days of national mourning were declared, and Reuters reported that horses drew Mubarak’s coffin, draped in the Egyptian flag, at a mosque complex, followed by a procession led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, top military officials, Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, and other Egyptian and Arab dignitaries. Mubarak’s coffin was to be airlifted to the family burial grounds, state television reported.
Mubarak’s legacy is clouded by the repressive manner in which he ruled the impoverished country of over 97 million people, but tempered by the chaos that followed his ouster. How he will be perceived in the history books in coming generations is still a question mark.
But in his relationship with Israel, Mubarak’s legacy is already written in stone.
Considered a war hero for his role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mubarak ironically ended up rigorously guarding the tenuous peace between Egypt and Israel that was forged by his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1979.
As Herb Keinon wrote in Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post, Mubarak understood the peace treaty’s importance and utility to the Egyptian economy, yet he also wanted Egypt to regain the stature it lost in the Arab world by signing the treaty. Therefore, he fulfilled the security commitments under the accord to the letter, but at the same time did nothing to try to imbue the treaty with anything that would lead to normal relations between the two countries.
The reason always given, like that given by Jordan’s King Hussein, was the lack of formal peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Mubarak did not shy away from personally getting deeply involved in attempting to resolve the conflict.
He also met regularly with Israeli prime ministers and defense ministers in an effort to keep the region calm. The US often looked to Egypt and Mubarak to play a leading role in promoting Israeli-Arab reconciliation, and the Egyptian leader was not afraid to chastise others besides Israel.
When then-Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat was slow to sign a 1995 annex to the Oslo II Accord, an embarrassed Mubarak literally nudged him to the table, with a puzzled prime minister Yitzhak Rabin looking on. Eyewitnesses say they heard Mubarak whisper to Arafat, “Sign it, you dog.”
While he upheld the peace treaty with Israel, he also fought efforts to turn his country into more of a democracy. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert recalled how he often complained about American efforts to get him to democratize Egypt.
Following the upheaval in Egypt after Mubarak’s removal and the rise and fall of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country has returned to the iron fist ways of Mubarak under Sisi.
Although seemingly much less involved with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Sisi has continued Mubarak’s policy of Egypt as the main player in the region, at least regarding Gaza.
Egypt has been instrumental in restoring calm and brokering ceasefires on the southern border whenever the quiet has been shattered by rocket barrages from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
That’s a direct result of Mubarak’s influence on the Egypt that evolved in the wake of the peace treaty. Mubarak could have turned his back on Sadat’s peace treaty and entrenched Egypt back into an old-world way of thinking, which could have had disastrous results for the region and for Israel. Instead, he continued in the path of Sadat, not out of a love for Israel, but out of pragmatism and a well-developed political acumen.
Mubarak’s legacy will surely be stained by the manner in which he repressed his people and the dictatorial way in which he ran Egypt for three decades. But he will be remembered in Israel as the Egyptian leader who kept the treaty, maintained the cold peace and got down in the trenches to work toward peace between Israel and its neighbors.