The Rise and Fall of an Emperor

Last Updated: Feb 12, 2011, 15:37 PM IST

Kamna Arora

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. - Martin Luther King, Jr

It’s a historic time for Egyptians. A wave of popular protest has claimed the leadership of the Arab world`s most populous country. Yes, 18 days of protests have finally brought an ignominious end to the 30-year rule of Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak. The survivor of at least six assassination attempts has finally become the casualty of non-violent protests by his own countrymen.

There were rumours on Friday noon that Mubarak and his family had left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian resort town in the southern Sinai. Undeterred by the reports, enraged demonstrators vowed to continue their protests. And by the evening, the Egyptians were filled with joy as they received the ground breaking news: Hosni Mubarak had finally stepped down as President.

On February 11, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced: “President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of President of the Republic and has charged the High Council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.”

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia served as the catalyst for `Nile Revolution` in Egypt. Rampant corruption, high unemployment, widespread poverty, rising prices, autocracy were the key drivers of the unrest.

Middle East experts suggest that Mubarak`s family fortune could be as much as USD 70 billion. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also billionaires. However, 40 percent of the 80 million Egyptians live on less than USD 2 a day. A report by the Global Financial Integrity said crime and corruption cost Egypt approximately USD 6 billion per year. Nearly 30 percent population is illiterate in Egypt and the unemployment rate is reportedly 34 percent for people aged 25 and under.

The Rise

Born on May 04, 1928 in the village of Kahel-el-Meselha on the Nile River Delta, Mubarak graduated from Egypt`s Military Academy in 1949. He was later transferred to the Air Force where he was commissioned in 1950. He was promoted to the Air Chief Marshal rank post the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

In 1975, he was appointed as Vice President by President Anwar El-Sadat. He ascended to the top job in October 1981 in the wake of President Sadat’s assassination by Islamic extremists. Mubarak henceforth became Egypt`s fourth president.

He earned prestige as a key negotiator on the Palestinian crisis. He was closely involved in negotiating the Camp David peace agreement with Israel in 1979, winning billions in US aid. Egypt has since then been a key ally of the West.

The Fall

Throughout his rule, Mubarak presided over a period of domestic stability, using constitutional manipulation and rigged polls. His draconian emergency laws and a hated police force had also been fuelling anger among his countrymen.

But when Tunisians successfully overthrew their autocratic ruler, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, on January 14, repressed Egyptians were motivated to replicate the event in their country. Thanks to social networking websites, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined hands to oust Mubarak from power.

Albeit the embattled leader tried to convince people by offering political concessions and appointing a vice president, yet the hoi polloi were not convinced. On February 10, Mubarak announced in a televised speech that he would keep his title and handed over some of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman. But suddenly on February 11, he handed over power to the military and left Cairo. It was an unprecedented end to a carefully-scripted era of Mubarak.

Who’s the head?

The military generals are in charge of Egypt now. Egypt’s Vice President has announced that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would deal with the state`s affairs.

The Supreme Council comprises the heads of the different branches of the military as well as the Minister of Defense and the General Chief of Staff.

What’s next?

Speaking after the resignation of Mubarak, US President Barack Obama rightly noted that it was "not the end of Egypt`s transition, it`s a beginning”. The ball is now in the court of the military top brass. Just the leader has gone, but the haunting factors that led to his ouster are still there.

The events in Egypt have made autocrats even more nervous. No one would have imagined that people’s power would force Egypt’s unshakable leader for three decades to surrender. It’s still to be seen which country will be hit by the chill wind of popular anger after Egypt.

The fall of Mubarak will have an impact on a number of regional issues, such as the Arab-Israeli peace process, rising influence of Iran, Islamic extremism, to name a few.

The United States played a role in Mubarak`s decision to step down. However, it cannot be predicted how decisive the role was. Egypt is a key ally of the US in the Middle East. Cairo receives about USD 1.5 billion in US military and economic assistance a year. The events in Egypt are very important for the US, as they may eventually hit the interests of Washington. Whether Egypt goes to the polls in September, or who takes charge of the country, the fate of America’s regional influence is in limbo.