Mubarak, Husni (1928–)

views updated

Mubarak, Husni

Egyptian military officer and politician Husni (Hosni) Mubarak has been one of the most important Arab leaders of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Appointed vice president in 1975 by President Anwar Sadat, whom he succeeded as president in 1981, Mubarak has held his office longer than any other Egyptian leader of the twentieth century. Continuing Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sadat's dominance of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, Mubarak has maintained the Egyptian government's ties to the United States, relations with Israel, and privatization of the economy. Upper classes and foreigners have prospered more in Egypt than the growing Egyptian population, which has become increasingly urbanized but remains poor. By renewing his emergency powers, Mubarak has used security forces against political and religious opponents.


Husni Mubarak was born on 4 May 1928 to an Egyptian middle-class family in Kafr al-Musayliha, Egypt, a small town in the province of Minufiyya. He was educated at local elementary and secondary schools, where he studied

mainly Arabic and history. His father, an inspector for the Justice Ministry, wanted his son to go to the Higher Teachers College in Cairo and to become a schoolteacher, but Mubarak chose a military career. He graduated from Egypt's Military Academy in 1947 and from the Air Force Academy in 1950. Trained as a fighter pilot, Mubarak served as an instructor at the Air Force Academy from 1954 to 1961, and spent two academic years in the Soviet Union where he learned to fly the latest Soviet jet fighters. He presided over the Air Force Academy from 1967 to 1969.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Mubarak held the top posts in the air force. From 1969 to 1972, he was the chief of staff of the air force. Then, as commander-in-chief of the air force and deputy war minister, Mubarak assumed a leadership role in the air war Egypt waged against Israel in October 1973. Based on the performance of Mubarak and the air force, he received Egypt's three highest military medals and became the air marshal in 1974.

Mubarak's rise in government was tied to Sadat who removed all Soviet military advisers from Egypt and, after the good showing of the Egyptian military against Israel in 1973, relied increasingly on the United States to negotiate disengagement agreements with Israel. Sadat also replaced the one-party rule of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union with his own National Democratic Party. He traveled to Jerusalem to address the Israeli Knesset in 1977, reached agreement with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, and established Egypt's relations with Israel in 1979. Sadat's engagement with Israel upset many Egyptians and turned most Palestinians and other Arabs against him. Most Arab states severed their relations with Egypt and members of the Arab League abandoned its headquarters in Cairo.

In 1975, Sadat made Mubarak vice president. Mubarak observed how Sadat used his new constitution of 1971 to dominate the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Egypt's government. Sadat's constitution gave the president the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and all members of the cabinet. He and the cabinet dominated the so-called People's Assembly by initiating the vast majority of bills, manipulating the parliamentary schedule to pass controversial bills, and lifting immunity from prosecution for any legislators who refused to do the president's bidding. The president appointed and promoted all judges, including those of the Supreme Constitutional Court, most of whose rulings backed the president. In opposition to the one-party rule of the Arab Socialist Union under Nasser, Sadat declared multiparty rule, but in fact used his Committee for the Affairs of Political Parties Committee (PPC) to ensure that his own party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), remained dominant. The PPC has six members: the ministers of interior and justice, the state minister for legislative affairs, and three judicial figures appointed by the president's ministers, all of whom served at the pleasure of the president.


Name: Husni Mubarak (Hosni Mubarak)

Birth: 1928, Kafr al-Musayliha, Minufiyya province, Egypt

Family: Wife, Suzanne Thabet Mubarak; two sons, Ala and Gamal

Nationality: Egyptian

Education: Egypt's Military Academy, 1947; Air Force Academy, 1950


  • 1950s–mid-1970s: Officer in the Egyptian air force
  • 1975–1981: Made vice president of Egypt
  • 1981: Becomes president of Egypt

In the years immediately before and after Mubarak became vice president, he observed Sadat's use of Islam to counter lingering leftist support for Nasser, whose secularism and socialism had turned most of Egypt's religious leaders into mere employees of the state. Sadat made public demonstrations of his own religious piety, released some members of the Muslim brotherhood who had been imprisoned by Nasser, and permitted the publication of its periodical, al-Da'wa (The call). Impatient with the older members of the brotherhood, Muslim students joined al-Jama'a al-Islamiya, whose associations at Egypt's major universities protested against the crowded conditions on campus and the bleak prospects university graduates faced by taking jobs with the government. By the late 1970s, more young Muslims were influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood executed by Nasser's regime in 1966. When the radical Islamic organization al-Takfir wa'al-Hijra sought the release of some of their members from prison by taking a government ministers hostage, Sadat's regime arrested and executed scores of the group's members. Mubarak endorsed the president's crackdown on Islamist opponents. Mubarak agreed that Sadat must not hesitate to censor their hostile publications, or to arrest those who challenged the authority of the Egyptian state. However, Mubarak also saw the risks Sadat ran with Egyptian public opinion by courting the U.S. media and supporting publicly the former shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ailing in Egypt as Sadat's guest.

Islamist militants had underground cells in Upper Egypt and in the slums of Cairo and crowded cities along the Nile. There were cells also inside Egypt's armed forces. One of them, al-Jihad, claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sadat. On 6 October 1981, several men in uniform were riding in a military parade commemorating the anniversary of Egypt crossing the Suez Canal in 1973 when they fatally shot Sadat in the reviewing stand. Taking office immediately, Mubarak was confirmed as president in a referendum held one week after the assassination. Five of Sadat's assassins would be executed in April 1982. Mubarak ordered the arrest of militant Islamists, hundreds of whom were tried on charges of belonging to al-Jihad, which called for overthrowing the government. In September 1984, 174 of the 302 people arrested in conjunction with Sadat's murder were acquitted of conspiring to overthrow the government; sixteen were sentenced to hard labor for life; and the rest received prison sentences up to fifteen years. Mubarak also released some of the more moderate political and religious opposition whom Sadat had detained.

As the violence of Islamist militancy declined in the early 1980s, Mubarak saw increasing numbers of Egyptians look to the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood. This resilient organization, established in the 1920s, mushroomed by the 1940s into millions of members, some of whom were armed and operated underground. By the 1980s, the brotherhood rejected violence. The Muslim Brotherhood emphasized its efforts to provide for the health, education, and welfare needs of millions unserved by the state. The brotherhood also increased its influence on campuses and within professional organizations. Because the state recognized no religious organization as a political party, some Muslim Brotherhood members ran as independents and formed the largest opposition bloc in parliament during the mid-1980s. Mubarak even made some friendly gestures toward Muslim moderates, such as banning alcohol outside tourist areas.

When Mubarak became president in 1981, his declaration of emergency rule gave him control not only of the state, but more ways to manipulate Egypt's politics. President Mubarak renewed this emergency rule every three years, which enabled him to censor, seize, or confiscate letters, newspapers, publications, and all other means of expression and advertising before they were published. The emergency rule also allowed Mubarak to control political campaigns by requiring that all political meetings must report in advance the date, location, and estimated size of the gathering to the local police, which in turn forwards this information to the Ministry of Interior for approval. These emergency measures made it possible for Mubarak to avoid declaring martial law, which requires suspension of the constitution and the replacement of civil with military courts. Mubarak's regime has used other means to reduce the influence of parties running candidates for the People's Assembly. The general elections of 1984, 1987, and 1990 gave Mubarak's National Democratic Party a huge majority over all the recognized parties, none of which had much impact on the People's Assembly. In 1987, Mubarak was nominated by the necessary two-thirds majority of the legislature to seek a second six-year term as president. The only candidate, Mubarak won 97 percent of the votes cast.

By the end of the 1980s, Mubarak had improved Egypt's standing with the leaders of other Arab states, most of whom had initially seen Mubarak as Sadat's man and no less of a puppet of the United States. President Mubarak conducted Egypt's inter-Arab diplomacy mostly out of public view, in contrast to the public posturing of the charismatic Nasser and flamboyant Sadat. Mubarak's personal diplomacy helped him improve Egypt's relations first with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the oil-rich countries of the Gulf, all of which were tied to the United States. He even eased some strained relations with Sudan and Libya, but he faced problems with Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Whenever Israeli-Palestinian tensions flared up and the United States sided with Israel, Mubarak had to use great skill in conducting Egypt's relations with other Arab states. In 1989, Saudi Arabia's King Fahd visited Cairo, the same year that Egypt was readmitted into the Arab League. The sevenfold increase in oil prices during the 1970s had given enormous economic power to Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich states of the Gulf. Egypt sided diplomatically, but not militarily, with saddam hussein's Iraq during his costly eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Mubarak stood with the United States, the leader of a large coalition of Arab as well as non-Arab allies. Mubarak even ordered forty thousand Egyptian forces to the Gulf War, the only time he used military force outside the boundaries of Egypt itself. As a result, Washington canceled $14 billion worth of Egypt's accumulated foreign debt, which was about half what Egypt owed the United States, mostly for weaponry.

During the early 1990s, Mubarak faced more Islamist protest and violence. He had little success as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the Palestinians launched their intifada in late 1987. Palestinian and Muslim rage over Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza was heightened by political, social, and economic frustrations in Egypt. Outbreaks of Islamist violence in Asyut, one of the poorest provinces of Upper Egypt, as well as in Imbaba, one of the slums of Cairo, increased. In June 1992, Mubarak ordered five thousand members of the security forces to Asyut for the most extensive military operation against Islamists in years. The People's Assembly duly passed new antiterrorism legislation that imposed the death sentence for more crimes. There was a fall in the number of tourists visiting Egypt and a fall in foreign currency earnings, upon which Egypt heavily depended. Following the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993, U.S. authorities arrested Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman, the spiritual leader of al-Jama'a al-Islamiya, who had been exiled from Egypt. Later that year, when there were more attacks on foreign tourists and more attempted assassinations of several members of Egypt's cabinet, Mubarak appointed a general to head the Ministry of Interior. In 1993, Egyptian courts sentenced thirty-eight terrorists to death, the largest number of political executions in Egypt's recent history.

By the mid-1990s, armed Islamists were attacking tourist trains and Nile cruise ships, banks, and foreign institutions. The emergency law having been renewed for another three years in 1994, Mubarak put local elections under the Ministry of Interior and warned foreign journalists that they would be arrested or expelled if they did not follow government press restrictions. Mubarak's party lost some parliamentary seats in the general election of 1995, and received hundreds of complaints about voting irregularities. Members of al-Jama'a al-Islamiya claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Mubarak on his way from the Addis Ababa airport to a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in 1995. In September 1997, seven German tourists were killed and even more of them were wounded in Cairo; a few weeks later fifty-eight foreign tourists were killed in Luxor by al-Jama'a al-Islamiya. At this juncture, Mubarak took over three main cabinet posts and demanded the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood members and any publications that encouraged armed Islamists.

Islamist terrorism and state repression peaked at the end of the 1990s, as strikes and labor unrest led some politicians to propose the termination of all employment contracts. Even nongovernmental organizations faced new restrictions from the state, along with more arrests and trials of terrorists. As violence lessened, Mubarak announced the release of thousands of prisoners, provided they stopped associating with illegal organizations and renounced violence. Early in 1999, some leaders of al-Jama'a al-Islamiya agreed to a cease-fire, which the government respected while proceeding with the largest security trial Egypt had held since militant Islamists had launched their campaigns against the state.

Mubarak began his fourth six-year term in office late in 1999 and early in 2000 renewed his emergency powers for yet another three years. Facing much opposition domestically, Mubarak still tried to assert Egypt's influence regionally by criticizing U.S. air strikes against Iraq and against alleged terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. He also tried to encourage more U.S. peace efforts with the Israelis and Palestinians. Mubarak appointed his son Gamal (also Jamal) to the general secretariat of the National Democratic Party in the hope of energizing the party with the approach of the general election of 2000. New judicial supervision of elections improved fairness, but Muslim Brotherhood members complained of obstructions and the NDP's old guard remained in control of the People's Assembly. A good deal of Mubarak's fourth term was consumed by controversies surrounding Egypt's judicial system.

To Mubarak, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York City and Washington, D.C., justified Egypt's own war against Islamist terror. He soon had twenty-two members of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested for inciting violence and belonging to an outlawed organization. A military court accused ninety-four Islamists of conspiring to assassinate President Mubarak and overthrow the government. Under Mubarak's emergency rule, those on trial had no right of appeal. In 2002, leaders of al-Jama'a al-Islamiya apologized to the people of Egypt for their violent acts of the past and considered offering their victims compensation. In 2003, when the People's Assembly extended the state of emergency for another three years despite overwhelming Egyptian opposition, Mubarak pointed to Western democracies' tightening of security. However, he soon announced that all the emergency laws that had been in place since the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 were to be abolished except for those necessary to maintain public order and security. A committee of the prime minister withdrew six of the thirteen military orders. Mubarak also set up a new council of thirty-five ministers to comply with Washington's push for reform across the Middle East. Some Egyptians took hope from the release of more than seven hundred alleged Islamist militants in the autumn of 2004, but hundreds more were arrested after car bombs destroyed resorts on the Sinai Peninsula. Early in 2005, Mubarak engaged in a national dialogue about reforming the elections for the People's Assembly and the presidency itself. Reform was still being talked about until July 2005, when almost 100 people were killed and 200 more injured at Sharm al-Shaykh on the Sinai Peninsula. By the end of the month, Mubarak announced his intention to seek a fifth six-year term. Promising further reforms as he campaigned for the presidential election in September 2005, Mubarak received more than 88 percent of the votes. His two main opponents gained less than 10 percent, and the seven other candidates each received less than 0.5 percent of the vote. The turnout was low and no presidential candidates were identified by party. In the general election for the People's Assembly at the end of 2005, some veteran NDP and secular party candidates lost seats, but the independents backed by the Muslim Brotherhood gained almost seventy.

Mubarak managed to maintain Egypt's relations with other Arab countries and the United States despite his unwillingness to support U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Further political reforms in Egypt were unlikely as Mubarak announced yet another reorganization of the NDP'S leadership. Mubarak's son, Gamal, was promoted to a key leadership post in the NDP along with other known supporters of the president. With the United States preoccupied by Iraq and Afghanistan, Mubarak spoke less of reform and clamped down on his opponents, particularly those who criticized the judiciary. In Mubarak's fifth term, domestic reforms languished as Mubarak failed to influence the Israeli cabinet and the Palestinian group Hamas, whose electoral victory led to a boycott and a freeze on international support for the Palestinian Authority and the peace process. Egypt's relations with the United States cooled.


Apart from the influence of his father and family when he was young, Mubarak was shaped most by his military career in the Egyptian air force and by his political apprenticeship with Sadat, to whom he remained loyal as long as he lived and even after Sadat's death. Mubarak has little of the warm personal qualities of successful politicians, but has retained the cool demeanor of the dutiful military commander. Neither an ideologue nor a political visionary, Mubarak dislikes public speaking. A pragmatist, he prefers to meet with small groups of men seated informally around the room or at a conference table, where he is at his best negotiating in Egypt or abroad. Preoccupied with the defense of Egypt, he has less interest in domestic issues and feels uncomfortable with concerns, whether religious or secular, about the dire lot of most Egyptians, the poorest of whom are undereducated, underemployed, and undervalued.

Mubarak's greatest contributions may derive from his keeping a sense of proportion about the limited influence of Egypt, a crowded and poor country, in the region and the world. Unlike the young Nasser, who ambitiously saw Egypt at the center of an Arab circle, an Islamic circle, and an African circle, Mubarak sees Egypt as only one of many countries of the modern Middle East. Egypt is more populous than any other Arab country and has an ancient pre-Islamic tradition along with Muslim connections to the pilgrimage to Mecca and the scholars and students at al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's greatest center of religious learning. Further, Cairo is a center of Arab publishing, movies, and media. Unlike the flamboyant Sadat, who enjoyed public fame and much fortune, Mubarak is impressed by neither. He rules in a region where oil-rich leaders have more money than most other countries. Recognizing that Egypt's economic and military weaknesses contribute to corruption, he has succeeded in keeping Egypt out of war for quarter of a century. That contribution is significant, no matter how limited his successes have been in achieving greater peace in the region and greater prosperity for Egyptians. Fearing more food riots, as shook Cairo in the late 1970s, and maintaining subsidies for the poorest Egyptians, Mubarak has not lowered subsidies as much as ordered by the International Monetary Fund and other agents of globalization. That he has remained president of Egypt for so long, however, indicates that Mubarak is not indifferent to the poor peoples of Egypt. Politically active Egyptians have tired of him and disagreed with him, but they still respect him as a great military officer and a responsible president with a strong sense of duty toward their country.


We opt for peace in order to prevent the continued wastage of funds used for the purchase of arms and ammunition. Such funds could now be spent for the welfare and prosperity of the Egyptian people, who have long suffered from the horrors and of war in both psychological and material terms.

Dialogue with the Islamists is no longer an option. The late President Sadat tried this and he got nowhere so he got rid of three-quarters of them. We have tried dialogue with them but as soon as they started to get strong they no longer wanted dialogue so I took the decision in 1993 to have no more of that.



Different Egyptians, Arabs, and Muslims have different views of Mubarak's presidency. Critics attack him for being cynical or cautious, yet his supporters see his restraint and caution as necessary. Whereas younger Egyptians, Arabs, and Muslims have expressed impatience with Mubarak, the older ones are more likely to value his decades of service and determination to defend Egypt and maintain law and order. Militants who are strongly attached to their own Islamist agendas feel so frustrated by Mubarak that they wish he were dead.

Non-Egyptians, non-Arabs, and non-Muslims throughout the world have different views of Mubarak, if they have ever heard of him or taken any interest in contemporary Egypt. U.S. leaders respect Mubarak's shrewdness and straightforwardness about the Arab world, and always take Mubarak's views seriously even when he quietly criticizes some U.S. policies. Most Americans pay little attention to Mubarak, who refuses to play media politics. No less than the United States, Europe's leaders respect Mubarak's vulnerabilities in presiding over Egypt, the most populous Arab country in a region that is weak compared with countries with more oil riches and powerful weapons.


A stolid figure with a taciturn manner, Mubarak's legacy has been overshadowed by more ambitious, powerful, and rich leaders on the world stage. Historians should value Mubarak less for what he did in Egypt than for what he did not allow Egypt to do. He did not keep Egypt on war footing, nor lead the country into costly and destructive wars. Instead, he helped keep the Egyptian nation on a steady, if unexciting, course in a region with the richest reserves of oil during a time when the Persian Gulf area became of main economic concern to the rest of the world and strategically the most vital to the greatest powers of the world.

Economically, Mubarak had to find a middle way between the rich and poor, the demands of the International Monetary Fund for restructuring, and the anger of those threatened by economic contraction, between the public and private sectors, and between national self-sufficiency and fuller integration in to the global order by pursuing a policy of export-led growth. Politically, Mubarak had to find a middle way between secularism and theocracy, authoritarian control and liberalization, between those who venerated Nasser and those who venerated the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, and the angry Islamist assertions of Qutb.


Amin, Galal. Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

Baker, Raymond William. Islam without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Elyachar, Julia. Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

Kassem, Maye. Egyptian Politics: The Dynamics of Authoritarian Rule. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004.

――――――. In the Guise of Democracy: Governance in Contemporary Egypt. Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 1999.

Springborg, Robert. Mubarak's Egypt: Fragmentation of the Political Order. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989.

                                               Roger Adelson