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Hosni Mubarak, ironman ruler of Egypt for decades, dies at 91

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader who for nearly 30 years was the resolute face of stability in the Mideast before being forced by the military to resign after nationwide protests that were part of the Arab world's 2011 pro-democracy upheaval, died on Tuesday, the country's state-run TV said. He was 91.

Mubarak, Anwar Sadat's VP, rose to presidency in 1981 and was ousted in 2011 Arab Spring uprising

Former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak has died. Mubarak ruled for 30 years before he was ousted in 2011 during the Arab Spring.   2:36

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader who for nearly 30 years was the resolute face of stability in the Mideast before being forced by the military to resign after 18-day nationwide protests that were part of the Arab world's 2011 pro-democracy upheaval, died on Tuesday, the country's state-run TV said. He was 91.

The state TV said Mubarak died at a Cairo hospital where he had undergone an unspecified surgery. The report said he had health complications but offered no other details. One of his sons, Alaa, announced over the weekend that the former president was in an intensive care after undergoing surgery.

The Egyptian government announced three days of national mourning would commence.

Throughout his rule, he was a stalwart U.S. ally, a bulwark against Islamic militancy and guardian of Egypt's peace with Israel. But to the tens of thousands of young Egyptians who rallied for 18 days of unprecedented street protests in Cairo's central Tahrir Square and elsewhere in 2011, Mubarak was a relic, a latter-day pharaoh.

They were inspired by the Tunisian revolt, and harnessed the power of social media to muster tumultuous throngs, unleashing popular anger over the graft and brutality that shadowed his rule. In the end, with millions massed in Tahrir Square and other city centres around the country, and even marching to the doorstep of Mubarak's palace.

Mubarak listens to his son Gamal, left, during a hearing in their retrial at the Police Academy in Cairo on April 13, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)

Mubarak's presidency came to a shocking end on Feb. 11, 2011, when he went on Egyptian television to announce his resignation in the face of anti-government protests. The ouster of Mubarak paved the way for presidential and parliamentary elections, often cited as the first democratic votes in Egypt's history.

He was convicted along with his former security chief on June 2012 and sentenced to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the uprising against his autocratic regime. Both appealed the verdict and a higher court later cleared them in 2014.

The acquittal stunned many Egyptians, thousands of whom poured into central Cairo to show their anger against the court.

The following year, Mubarak and his two sons — wealthy businessman Alaa and Mubarak's one-time heir apparent Gamal — were sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges during a retrial. The sons were released in 2015, for time served, while Mubarak walked free in 2017.

Since his arrest in April 2011, Mubarak spent the nearly six years in jail in hospitals. Following his release, he was taken to an apartment in Cairo's Heliopolis district.

Steps into power void after assassination

Hosni Mubarak was born in May 1928 in the village of Kafr el-Moseilha, near Cairo. Trained as a fighter pilot, he climbed the ranks of the Egyptian Air Force and became chief air marshal after the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Israel.

Little known outside of military circles, he was tapped by President Anwar Sadat in 1975 to serve as vice-president. 

Mubarak, left, is shown with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, right, at the Oct. 6, 1981 event in Cairo in which Sadat was gunned down and Mubarak injured. (Bill Foley/The Associated Press)

Mubarak was seated next to Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981 at an outdoor event in Cairo when Islamist Egyptian soldiers opened fire, killing Sadat for his role in forging the 1978 Camp David peace accord with Israel.

Eight days later, Mubarak was sworn in as president, promising continuity and order.

Over the next three decades, as the region was convulsed by one crisis after another, Mubarak was seen as a steady hand and a reliable U.S. partner against Islamic extremism. He sent troops as part of the U.S.-led coalition in the 1990-1991 Gulf war and contributed to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "deep sorrow" over Mubarak's death on Tuesday.

"President Mubarak, a personal friend of mine, was a leader who guided his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Mubarak "spent his life serving his homeland and the issues of righteousness and justice in the world, with the issue of our Palestinian people at the top of them."

Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the United Arab Emirates also released statements offering condolences and mourning Mubarak.

Mubarak is seen on July 14, 1996 with Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat, left, in Bilbeis, Egypt. Mubarak was often sought out by Israeli and Palestinian leaders amid their ongoing conflict in the Middle East. (Norbert Schiller/The Associated Press)

Within Egypt, he presided over slow but steady economic growth and largely kept the country out of armed conflicts after decades of war with Israel. Unlike his predecessors, both Sadat and Egypt's towering nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mubarak pursued no grand ideology beyond stability and economic development.

Critics said that as president, Mubarak never really took off the military uniform he first donned as a pilot in 1950. He ran the country with an iron fist, brooked no dissent, and depended on the support of the military's hierarchy — friendly territory for the career military man.

A nationwide state of emergency — imposed just after the Sadat assassination — was in effect for Mubarak's entire presidency. Opposition politicians, young activists, unfriendly journalists and Islamists all found themselves targeted for arrest, imprisonment and often torture. Some simply disappeared. Constitutional rights were suspended, unauthorized protests were banned, and corruption was endemic.

Steadfast in face of Western pressure

From the start of his presidency, Mubarak was careful to court U.S. support. He maintained the controversial peace accord his assassinated predecessor signed with Israel. The Americans viewed him as their most important Arab ally in the volatile cauldron of Middle East politics and rewarded his government with billions in military aid.

The U.S. tried pushing him harder for reforms, but succeeded only in alienating him. Fearful of losing its alliance with the most powerful Arab country, Washington backed off.

Mubarak is seen on Jan. 16, 2008 with U.S. President George W. Bush. Republican and Democratic presidential administrations tried to pressure Egypt into accepting democratic reforms but generally saw the regime as a bulwark against Islamist militancy. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press)

He ran unopposed in three referendums but eventually faced growing U.S. pressure in 2005 to allow real opposition. But the result was hardly the kind of democratic vote seen in the West, and some rival politicians quickly found themselves on the receiving end of the state's system-wide suppression efforts.

The failure to fulfil repeated promises of change steadily deepened public despair, and those seeking a democratic future were dismayed to see Mubarak making apparent moves to set up a dynastic succession in the shape of his businessman son, Gamal.

The successful popular uprising in Tunisia in January 2011 inspired citizens in Egypt and was beginning of the end for Mubarak's regime.

Despite the mass protests, he tried to hang on to power, promising not to run for re-election in September, pledging that his son Gamal would not succeed him, naming a vice-president for the first time in his presidency, and promising further democratic reforms.

In this Jan. 31, 2011 file photo, a wounded demonstrator carries a message of protest in Cairo, Egypt. Less than two weeks later, Mubarak left office and flew to Sharm el-Sheikh. (Manoocher Deghati/The Associated Press)

The day before his resignation, in what would be his final speech to Egyptians as their president, the 82-year-old Mubarak spoke of his service to Egypt.

"I fought for it and defended its soil. On its soil I will die," he said. "History will judge me like it did others."

He, his wife and two sons flew to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh the next day. Rumours that he was seriously ill surfaced within hours of his arrival there. 

Military leader seizes control again

The Carter Centre praised the "unwavering commitment of the Egyptian people to democracy" but expressed some concerns about the 2012 election that followed after Mubarak's ouster.

"Ultimately, a genuine democratic transition will require more than elections," said the centre named after former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. "It will also require the establishment of a democratically elected, civilian government with full authority over the military."

That proved overly optimistic in the extreme.

Mohammed Morsi, a longtime senior figure in Egypt's most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, won the 2012 election, but the military, led by then-defence minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, ousted Morsi a year later after massive protests against the Brotherhood's domination of power.

Sisi, who had risen in the military ranks beginning in the 1980s, won landslide elections in 2014 and 2018 — panned by international election monitors for a lack of free opposition — as well as a referendum that could see him serve as president into the 2030s.

"The presidency mourns with great sorrow the former President of the Republic, Mr. Mohammed Hosni Mubarak," Sisi said in a statement on Tuesday. It referred to Mubarak as "one of the leaders and heroes of the glorious October war, as he assumed command of the Air Force during the war that restored dignity and pride to the Arab nation."

Mubarak is survived by his wife, Suzanne, his two sons and four grandchildren.

 

With files from CBC News

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