While Gamal Abd El Nasser and Anwar El Sadat held differing ideologies and endorsed diverging foreign policies, they both had a lot in common. Both came from modest backgrounds and persevered through the ranks of the military, both had strong charisma that captivated people in both Egypt and the Arab world and both cared deeply for their country. While late President Hosni Mubarak had a much more reserved persona than his predecessors, he too endured an impoverished life to become a high ranking officer in the military and he too had a deep love for Egypt that can never be put into question.
MODEST BEGINNINGS, HIGH AMBITIONS
Mubarak was born on May 4, 1928, in the northern governorate of Monufia. Hailing from a poor background, he sought a career in the military as a means of climbing the social ladder. As a result, he enrolled in the military academy when he was a teenager, but soon his talent would see him move towards the Air Force Academy. As his early military career took place during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the young Mubarak witnessed crucial events in Egypt’s history, namely the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, the 1952 Egyptian Revolution which saw the removal of King Farouk and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ascendency in 1956. Like many Egyptians who lived during this time period, a great sense of patriotism and kinship towards fellow countrymen was instilled into the young Air Force officer. He was officially commissioned by the Air Force in 1950, and his immense skill in flying fighter jets saw him become a flight instructor for the academy. It was also during the 1950s when Mubarak met the love of his life, Suzanne Thabet, a young woman who came from a privileged background. In spite of this, her parents allowed her to wed Mubarak having recognized him as an ambitious young man who would become something big someday. They were right, as his hard work and perseverance would see him become the Air Force Chief of Staff in 1972.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (R) shakes hands with jet pilots during a visit to a military dependency, 29 April 1991. (Getty)
OCTOBER 6, 1973: HIS FINEST HOUR IN THE AIR FORCE
As the commander of the Egyptian Air Force, Mubarak had the difficult mission of kick-starting the surprise attack on Israeli forces during the October 6 War. Mubarak knew that he was in charge of a make or break moment for the Egyptian military, if done right the rest of the forces would be able to carry out their operations. But if any mistakes were made on the Air Force’s part then the Egyptian military’s entire strategy would falter. Fortunately, under his command, the first airstrike was a success and served as an important turning point in the war. While the effects of the war were not immediate, it was a major factor that led to both Egypt and Israel sitting down at the negotiating table, and after years of diplomatic effort, Egypt regained the Sinai Peninsula which it had lost in the aftermath of the 1967 War.
Egyptian president Anwar al Sadat (1918 - 1981) speaks with Vice President Hosni Mubarak while they travel from Cairo to Alexandria in the Egyptian presidential helicopter, 1977.
ASCENDING TO THE PRESIDENCY
His efforts during the war did not go unrewarded, in 1975 President Sadat named him as the new Vice President of the Republic. As Vice President, he oversaw a major transformation for Egypt as Sadat was trying to steer his country away from its previous socialist policies and embrace more open market policies paving the way to major economic growth in the country. He also oversaw Sadat’s efforts to reconcile with Israel, something that resulted in Egypt’s temporary expulsion from the Arab League. Just as October 6, 1973, was a major milestone in Mubarak’s life the same date in 1981 would be another one. During a military parade commemorating the war, a number of Islamist terrorists murdered President Sadat sending shockwaves across the country and the Arab world. Suddenly, Mubarak’s life was turned upside down as in a matter of hours he transitioned from Vice President to Egypt’s new President. While Mubarak might have dreamt of succeeding Sadat, never in his life did he want his succession to be as graphic as this.
For the next 30 years, Mubarak served as President of Egypt. As a leader, Mubarak expanded upon Sadat’s economic policies making Egypt a great place for businessmen and entrepreneurs, and his leadership resulted in unprecedented levels of economic growth during the 1990s and 2000s. He also tried to tackle some of his society’s ills, as he enacted policies to alleviate the problems of overpopulation. His wife, Suzanne, also founded an initiative that aimed to reduce the country’s levels of illiteracy.
As president, Mubarak also played a major role at the international stage. He had warned Saddam Hussein against invading Kuwait. Hussein did not heed these warnings and proceeded to occupy Kuwait in 1990. Immediately afterward, Mubarak led the emergency Arab League meeting which ended in a rejection of Hussein’s operations, and it was at that moment when Mubarak and the Arab League had to take a major decision. While the thought of Arab armies fighting each other was and still is undesirable, the Arab League made the choice to begrudgingly aid Western militaries in repelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Under Mubarak’s command, the Egyptian military was one of the major coalition forces that participated in Operation Desert Storm. Mubarak would also play a major mediating role in the peace talks between Palestine and Israel during the 1990s and 2000s.
From L to R, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, US President Bill Clinton, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II of Jordan pose for the family picture at the end of the Sharm el-Sheikh Middle East summit 17 October 2000. (Getty)
MUBARAK’S PATRIOTISM, HIS LEGACY AND BEYOND
In 2011, major protests around Egypt called for Mubarak to resign as president. Although he was President of the Republic, there was another title he had and valued much more: patriot. As such, Mubarak decided to listen to his fellow Egyptians and resign from his post, ending a three-decade-long tenure becoming the country’s longest-serving president. Even though so many other leaders in his position would have fled and sought refuge in another country, Mubarak’s love for his country caused him to remain living in Egypt amongst his people. His post-presidential life wasn’t easy as he faced a trial over alleged corruption charges, but he was cleared of these charges in 2017 and was able to live the remainder of his life in harmony. Mubarak made virtually no public appearances since his resignation, but in October 2019 a YouTube video from a channel called Mubarak archives was uploaded. The 25-minute-long video showed the retired Mubarak reflecting on his memories of the October War and the struggles the military endured during 1973. It was as if the late President felt that his time on this earth was coming to an end, and so he wanted to leave behind one final message to his people and the youth of Egypt. During his lifetime, Mubarak went from an underprivileged young man to Commander of the Air Force, to war hero and President of the Republic. While he will always be remembered for making lasting impacts while occupying those posts, his greatest legacy will always be his patriotism and love for Egypt.