“If Mubarak was a thief, then what do you call the ones who came after him?”
Across Egypt, emotions ran the gamut in the wake of the death of Mubarak, 91, in a Cairo hospital after surgery. There were relief and muted glee that the man who had repressed the Arab world’s most populous nation for three decades, and who was ousted in 2011 during the massive Arab Spring uprisings that rocked the region, was dead.
There were also sadness and grief. Some Egyptians called him a father figure and a war hero for his role in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Others were indifferent to his death, for Mubarak had been ailing and sidelined for years.
What they collectively evinced, however, was that they viewed his passing through the prism of today’s Egypt — and that has improved the former autocrat’s image even among some of his staunchest detractors.
Today, Egyptians are living under another authoritarian leader, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whose regime is widely considered more repressive than Mubarak’s. And the vast majority of Egyptians are worse off than they were under Mubarak’s own erratic economy.
“Mubarak will be remembered by Egyptians in probably a very polarizing fashion,” said H.A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “For his fans, he was a war hero, but the regime Mubarak built meant repression and economic dysfunctionality. And that all led to the 2011 revolutionary uprising, which ultimately led to his ouster.
“That’s Mubarak’s legacy: the uprising and the factors that led to it. The uprising is over, but the factors remain and have intensified.”
On Tuesday, Egypt’s military, which deposed Mubarak in 2011 amid the populist revolt, referred to the former air force officer as a war hero in a tweet. A military funeral is scheduled for Wednesday after noon prayers at el-Mosheer Tantawi mosque, one of Cairo’s most well-known mosques. Sissi, a former military general himself, announced three days of mourning for Mubarak.
Even as the military planned a glorious send-off, state-run and pro-Sissi media noted that Mubarak’s regime was marked by corruption, wasteful spending and failed infrastructure projects, and that he manipulated the constitution and elections in his favor.
Timothy Kaldas, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, said such coverage is an attempt by the Sissi government to undermine any fond remembrances of Mubarak. But Sissi, Kaldas noted, also has been accused of the same misspending and much worse repression.
“In trying to deter nostalgia for Mubarak, they’re reminding ppl of [Sissi’s] flaws,” Kaldas tweeted.
Mohamed Fawzy, a 32-year-old engineer, said he was “ecstatic” when Mubarak was “forced to step down.” Today, he admits that he is worse off economically and that he worries about issues such as water scarcity. But he blames Mubarak for his woes.
“We revolted against injustice, his plans to force his son on us and police brutality,” Fawzy said. “In a way, he is a direct accomplice in the situation we are facing now. He created a state of political voidness. . . . There was no politics under Mubarak, no one was on the political scene but him, and this is what has left us where we are now.”
Mona Seif, a human rights activist, said she was not “as joyful as I would have thought I’d be” about Mubarak’s death. She added that it “doesn’t change the injustice he started or alleviate the repressive oppression we are dealing with now.” Her brother, fellow activist Alaa Abd-El Fattah, was jailed under the Mubarak regime and is currently detained by the Sissi government.
“The first image I had in my head when I heard the news of Mubarak’s death was of me banging on the Tora prison door, wanting to share the news with Alaa,” Seif said.
To Sabah Abdellatif, 60, a retired teacher, Mubarak’s passing felt “like losing a father figure.” Even though she didn’t approve of Mubarak’s repressive tactics and economic decisions, Abdellatif is willing to reassess the former president’s legacy. “He must have faced other pressures,” Abdellatif said. “I can now see that. We are saddened by his death.”
Other Egyptians said they wished Mubarak had never been toppled. Under Sissi, strict austerity measures have led to rising prices, subsidy cuts, deepening poverty, unemployment and a lack of opportunities — the very factors that triggered Mubarak’s downfall. While the economy is showing some signs of improving, the benefits have not trickled down to most Egyptians.
Ahmed Andeel, 39, a sales manager, said that under Mubarak, he would have spent 50 Egyptian pounds a day to feed his family. Now, 1,000 pounds doesn’t pay for half their groceries. “My biggest shock was when Mubarak was removed,” Andeel said. “I am wholeheartedly against any revolution in any country. My life under Mubarak was better. My life was much simpler and safer.”