Mubarak - the pharaoh in a cage

Mubarak, 83, appeared frail in his first public appearance after his ouster five months ago.

Cairo: "The pharaoh in a cage", that is how
Egyptian newspapers summed up the downfall of Hosni Mubarak
from once an all powerful president to his pathetic appearance
on a hospital stretcher in a Cairo courtroom today to face
trial on charges that could lead to his execution.

Though, Mubarak, 83, appeared frail in his first public
appearance after his ouster five months ago, school, streets,
subway stations of a city seething with short tempers, there
was sense of awe, anticipation and doubt at the trial of a
figure whose power had remained uncontested for 30 years.

The prospects of Mubarak`s trial seemed to mark a new
moment in the Arab world, with people comparing it with the
capture, trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain.

His appearance in the dock stirred strong emotions in
Egypt -- one of the leading Arab countries -- with newspapers
describing him as "the pharaoh in a cage", apparently
referring to his deposition on charges of killing of
protesters and involvement in corruption from a steel wired
mesh cage in the special courtroom set up in the police

The Egyptian strongman`s ride to the helm of his country
was as dramatic as his fall. Mubarak came to power when he
was elevated to the presidency in the wake of Anwar Sadat`s
assassination in 1981, with few expecting that the
little-known vice-president would hold on to the country`s top
job for so long.

Mubarak survived six assassination attempts during his
30-year rule of Egypt with an iron hand but could not survive
the deluge of unprecedented street protests and was brought
down by his own people.

Until the outbreak of the grassroot uprising on January
25, Mubarak seemed insurmountable as president of the most
populous nation in the Arab world.

Mubarak, who was lucky to escape when Sadat was
assassinated by Islamic radicals at a military parade in
Cairo, has survived at least six assassination attempts since

The narrowest being in 1995 shortly after his arrival
in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to attend an African
summit. In the end, he was consumed by people`s anger and fury
that lasted 18 days.

Mubarak was sworn in on 14 October 1981, eight days
after the Sadat assassination.

The former Egyptian Air Force commander, despite
having little popular appeal, had managed to hold on to power
for three decades by positioning himself as a trusted Western
ally to keep peace with Israel.

Throughout his years in power, Mubarak maintained the
unpopular policy of peace with Israel and accommodation with
the West that cost Sadat his life.

Mubarak, who ruled as a quasi-military leader since he
took power, kept the country under emergency law, with
sweeping powers to curb basic freedoms in the county.

He argued that draconian laws were necessary to combat
Islamist terrorism, that he said would target the country`s
lucrative tourism sector.

Amid pressure from his powerful ally United States,
Mubarak had come under pressure for the first time to
encourage democracy in the country.

Mubarak, who won three elections unopposed since 1981,
had to change the system to allow rival candidates in his
fourth contest in 2005.

Never a smoker or a drinker, he has built himself a
reputation as a fit man who leads a healthy life.

In his younger days, close associates often complained of
the president`s schedule, which began with a workout in the
gym or a game of squash.

He had groomed his 40-year-old former investment
banker son Gamal Mubarak to become the next leader as he moved
steadily up the ranks of the NDP. But the street protests
derailed that ambitious plans.

Born in 1928 in a small village at Menofya province
near Cairo, Mubarak is married to a half-British graduate of
the American University in Cairo, Suzanne Mubarak. They have
two sons.

Despite having little popular appeal or international
profile at the time, the burly military man has used his
sponsorship of the issue behind Sadat`s killing--peace with
Israel--to build up his reputation as an international

He has presided over a period of domestic stability and
economic development that means most of his fellow countrymen
have accepted his monopolisation of power in Egypt.

In recent years, Mubarak has felt for the first time
the pressure to encourage democracy, both from within Egypt,
and from his most powerful ally, the United States.

Mubarak has won three elections unopposed since 1981, but
for his fourth contest in 2005 - after a firm push from the US
- he changed the system to allow rival candidates.


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