Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak (born 1928) led Egypt after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. He continued the policy of peace with Israel and also won back diplomatic relations with Arab Sates that had cut themselves off from Egypt when Sadat decided to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Hosni Mubarak came from the same Nile delta province, Minufiya, as his predecessor and patron, Anwar Sadat. Mubarak's village of Kafr-El Moseilha had a reputation for stressing education and had produced four cabinet ministers. His father was a minor official in the Ministry of Justice. After primary schooling in his village and secondary studies in the near-by provincial capital of Shibin El-Kom, Mubarak attended Egypt's Military Academy and its Air Academy, graduating from the latter in 1950. He completed the military training in only two years, opting to continue studying instead of taking his summer leave. He became a pilot and spent part of his training in the then Soviet Union.

Mubarak spent the next 25 years in the Air Force. He taught at the Air Academy and commanded Egypt's bomber force in the Yemen civil war in the 1960s. He visited the Soviet Union on several occasions and spent a year at the Soviet's Frunze military academy. He spoke Russian and English in addition to Arabic.

President Gamal Abdel Nasser named Mubarak director of the Air Academy in 1967, giving him the crucial task of rebuilding the air force, which the Israelis had destroyed on the ground in the Six Day War of June 1967. Mubarak moved up to Air Force chief-of-staff in 1969, and in 1972 he became its commander-in-chief. He helped plan the successful surprise attack on the Israeli forces occupying the east bank of the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973, launching the Yom Kippur War.

President Sadat rewarded Mubarak's patient competence in 1975 by naming him vice president. Sadat disliked routine administration and enjoyed the international limelight, so Mubarak quietly took over the day-to-day running of the government. Mubarak presided over cabinet meetings, controlled the security apparatus, and became vice president of the ruling National Democratic party. Diplomatic assignments abroad gave him experience with foreign affairs. He was sent to Syria, Iraq, the United States, and China. His expertise was integral to the negotiations for the 1978 Camp David Accords which Egypt and Israel signed, ending decades of conflict.

Mubarak escaped with a minor hand wound when Islamic fundamentalists gunned down Sadat at a military review on October 6, 1981. Moving quickly to restore order and consolidate his position, Mubarak crushed an Islamic uprising in Asyut and jailed over 2,500 members of militant Islamic groups. He executed a handful, had others sentenced to prison terms, and gradually released the rest. He also released the more secular political figures whom Sadat had indiscriminately jailed in the September crackdown that helped provoke his assassination.

Mubarak only slightly modulated the main lines of Sadat's foreign and domestic policies. He kept the 1979 Camp David treaty with Israel and Sadat's close ties to the United States. Egypt regained the Sinai peninsula when the Israelis withdrew in 1982. Egypt remained cool to Israel, however, because of a minor border dispute, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank. In 1986, however, he agreed to return the Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Throughout the 1980s Mubarak combated Egypt's most pressing problems, unemployment and a struggling economy. He increased the production of affordable housing, clothing, furniture, and medicine. He also kept a tight rein on his officials, firing ministers at the first hint of scandal and fining parliamentary legislators for unnecessary absences.

Egypt's heavy dependence on U.S. military and economic aid and her hopes for U.S. pressure on Israel for a Palestinian settlement continued under Mubarak. He carefully offered the Americans only military "facilities" and not bases, however, and quietly improved relations with the Soviet Union, whose ambassador returned to Cairo in 1984.

All the Arab states but three had broken relations with Egypt to protest the treaty with Israel. Without renouncing the treaty, Mubarak patiently rebuilt bridges to Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was Mubarak who prodded Arafat to recognize Israel's right to exist and moderate his extremist stance.

Internally, the military, the swollen government bureaucracy, the consumer-oriented upper middle class, and the rural power structure were still the mainstays of Mubarak's regime. The scattered opposition included Muslim idealists who longed for a theocracy, Nasserists and leftist who looked back to the populist redistributive policies of the early 1960s, and the New Wafd rightists who wanted further economic and political liberalization. Egypt's Christians, the Copts, remained nervous about the political resurgence of Islam. Mubarak's National Democratic party won a comfortable majority in the May 1984 elections. He told U.S. News and World Report that in Egypt "no religious political parties are allowed, and I am not going to change the laws … I don't want headaches. I would like to build a country and not cause reasonable people to fight one another."

Sadat's "open-door" economic policies—which encouraged foreign and local private investment—continued, although Mubarak tried to shift the emphasis from imported luxuries to productive enterprises. Mubarak did not dare to discontinue the costly government subsidies which reduced the prices of basic foods to consumers.

Mubarak dismissed several cabinet ministers from the Sadat days for corruption, prosecuted Sadat's brother (who had amassed a fortune overnight), and sternly warned his own relatives to avoid such temptations. He razed the luxury weekend retreats on the pyramids' plateau at Giza. Like Nasser, but unlike Sadat, Mubarak followed local mores in separating his public from his private life. His wife Suzanne, who had a master's degree in sociology, did not try to play the highly visible "first lady" role which had attracted Westerners to Jihan Sadat but had offended many Egyptians. In 1987 Mubarak won election to a second six-year term.

Mubarak was shocked and angered over the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He thought the Gulf War could have been avoided, but placed that responsibility on Saddam Hussein. He felt that the Saudi Arabians were justified in inviting assistance from the West to protect their sovereignty. He sent 45,000 troops to the allied coalition, with the unanimous approval of the Egyptian people. After the war Mubarak's prompt actions and support boosted Egypt to the forefront in leading the Arab world.

In 1993 Mubarak was elected for a sixth term with 96.3 percent of the vote. Many felt that the vote reflected the Egyptian's approval and confidence in Mubarak's stand against Islamic fundamentalists. Plots to assassinate Mubarak had surfaced in 1992 and 1993 but had failed. In 1995 however after two policemen and assailants were killed in another attack against the president, Mubarak continued his hard-line stance against the extremists. Not only were they plotting to overthrow the government, but their actions had damaged Egypt's already unsteady economy. His crackdown brought his government accusations of torture, summary execution intimidation of the press, and other human-rights violations.

In 1997, Mubarak embarked on the New Valley Canal project which many called his "great pyramid" or lasting legacy to Egypt. In effect Mubarak planned to "make the desert bloom" by creating a new canal through one of the hottest and driest places on earth, turning arid desert into arable farm land.

Further Reading on Hosni Mubarak

No book-length biography of Mubarak in either Arabic or English has yet appeared. He refused to discuss his private life, so articles on him and interviews with him necessarily concentrate on his public policies. See, for example, J. G. Merriam, "Egypt under Mubarak," Current History, 82 (1983); William E. Farrell, "Mubarak's Time of Testing," New York Times Magazine, 131 (January 31, 1982); and Hamied Ansari, "Mubarak's Egypt," Current History, 84 (1985). Also, U.S. News and World Report, May 19, 1997; April 10, 1989; April 16, 1990, Barrons, Jan 21, 1991, Facts on File, Oct 10, 1993; June 29, 1995, and Time, October 19, 1981; Sept 10, 1990; February 25, 1991; July 10 1995.