By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Hosni Mubarak rose to the rank of air vice marshal in air force and led it in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Egyptian air force was not put to full test since the war remained confined to a limited radius of 10 km across the Suez Canal so as to keep the attacking 2nd and 3rd Armies within the cover of surface to air missiles and ack ack guns deployed under heavily fortified bunkers near the home bank of the canal. After the establishment of bridgeheads across the canal, breakout battle towards Mitla Passes deep into Sinai was not carried out under a strategy so as to tempt the counter attacking forces to strike the well consolidated bridgeheads which were required to act as meat grinders.
This strategy was conceived by Lt Gen Saad el-Shazli which later on was criticized by some but proved to be sound. This defensive strategy handicapped Israeli air force as well as its mechanized forces to generate its full combat power. The war came to an end on 22 October 1973 after the UNSC intervened and affected a ceasefire. Egyptian Army regained its lost dignity and honor. Shazli who had opposed ceasefire gained immense popularity but he and his fans within the Army were weeded out by President Anwar al-Sadat.
Sadat never repudiated Gamal Nasser’s Pan-Arabism, yet he deserted the Arab fold by signing Camp David Treaty in November 1978 followed by Egypt-Israeli peace treaty in 1979. When Egypt got isolated from the Arab orbit and got deprived of financial assistance from Saudi Arabia and other oil rich Gulf States, Sadat made Egypt an economic client of the west, particularly USA. The US rewarded Egypt by sanctioning $1.3 billion annual aid making it the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, of which the Army became the chief beneficiary. The US aid provided a powerful incentive for Egyptian leaders to pursue a pro-American foreign policy.
The US largesse helped Egyptian armed forces to affect a gradual transition of its military technology from Russian to western. The US and western origin tanks, aircraft, missiles, naval vassals were inducted from mid 1970s onwards. This reversal of weapon policy rendered Egypt dependent on US-western sources of acquisition of military equipment.
Sadat never denounced Nasser’s socialism, but he subtly dismantled public sector in favor free-enterprise system. As opposed to Nasser’s policy of benefiting the middle and lower classes, Sadat’s economic policies benefited upper and upper middle class interests. He encouraged economic liberalization, loosened state controls and boosted private sector in line with capitalist system. Weakening of public sector had a crippling impact on lower classes. Policy of decentralization provided opportunities for private sector’s enrichment and corruption. Booming private business during 1970s allowed the bureaucrats to make inroads in private sector as brokers, middlemen, and entrepreneurs to supplement their fixed monthly salaries. This distraction was at the cost of state business since it gave rise to bureaucratic lethargy, inefficiency and disinterest in primary duties.
He first encouraged Islamic fundamentalism against proponents of Nasserism but then reversed himself by promoting secularism. To start with he respected development of democratic norms but later on started applying rigid controls. As a consequence, he failed to forge a viable ideological synthesis to build social cohesion and legitimacy. The ideological vacuum encouraged the rise of conflicting currents on the ‘left’ and ‘right’. The most potent ideological substitute was Islamic fundamentalism, which rose as a protest movement against the ruling elite.
Sadat gave birth to multi-party system from 1976 onwards to gradually do away with single party system resting on Arab Socialist Organization (ASO) which was established by Gamal Nasser in 1962. These included Leftist Group (National Progressive Unionist Party) promoting Marxist and progressive ideas, favoring strengthening of ties with Moscow, expanding public sector and pursuing ideals of Arab unity. The other was Centre-Arab Socialist Group advocating limited democratization, a mixed economy and close ties with the west. The third was Rightist Group, which was a Socialist Liberal Party calling for return to capitalism and private enterprise. In addition, there were Communist Party and Nasserite Party.
In the 1976 elections, the centrist group won 236 seats while right and left groups won only 14 seats. Violent food riots in January 1977 led to creation of New Wafd Party. In July 1978 Sadat announced creation of National Democratic Party (NDP) to replace ASO. Two months later, official opposition group ‘Socialist Labor Party’ under Ibrahim Shukri came into existence. In 1979 elections, NDP won 320 seats after which ASO was abolished. After the violent food riots in 1977 which were quelled by the Army, opposition to Sadat’s domestic and foreign policies intensified. The ones wanting to overthrow him were Nasserites, the left, and Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. His assassination on 6 October 1981 paved the way for Hosni Mubarak to occupy president’s seat.
The NDP under the chairmanship of President Hosni Mubarak ruled the roost for three decades. During his long rule he saw off President Ronald Reagan, George Bush senior, Bill Clinton, Bush junior and then interacted with Obama for two years. All the five US presidents found Mubarak ideally suited to guard the US interests in the region. He exercised firm control over all institutions including the Army, kept the extremists on the run and religiously stuck to Camp David Accord and peace treaty with Israel. Egypt continued to receive $1.3 billion US aid and also earned huge incomes from Suez Canal and tourism.
During Hosni’s rule, the Soviet inspired alignment of Libya-Ethiopia-Yemen was responded by Egypt-Somali-Sudanese alliance in early 1980s. He watched from the sidelines the Afghan Jihad (1979-1989), Islamic revolution in Iran and Iran-Iraq war (1979-1988), invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon by Israeli troops in 1982, occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, first Gulf War in 1991, 9/11 followed by occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by US led collation forces in November 2001 and May 2003 respectively and Bush’s efforts to democratize Arab regimes. At no stage he went against the US foreign policy objectives.
1982 invasion of Lebanon led to rapprochement of Egypt with some Arab states. Egypt became the main supplier of weapons and equipment for the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s through Pakistan. When Kuwait was captured by Iraqi forces, Hosni did send a token force to Saudi Arabia to earn rewards from USA. Although Egyptian forces didn’t fire a bullet, but Egypt got its US debts waived off. He also saw Israeli forces getting beating at the hands of Hizbollah when they attacked Lebanon in 2006 and withdraw. Not only Hosni facilitated Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza Strip under the rule of Hamas by closing the al-Rafah crossing in Sinai, he looked the other way to the invasion of Gaza mounted by Israeli forces in December-January 2009. Attack on Peace flotilla near Gaza coast by Israeli commandoes killing several Turkish peace activists in 2009 was also not strongly denounced by Egypt. Hosni however kept denouncing religious extremism and terrorism and came down heavily upon extremist elements within his own country. Elections were manipulated to keep the NDP in power.
In his tenure the first expression of revolt was witnessed in early 1986 in the form of police riots in Cairo and Alexandria. The revolt occurred in protest against unbridled liberalism and worsening conditions of the poor. Casinos, discos and cabaret dance places and some embassies were attacked. The Army had to be called in which quickly restored order but the undercurrents of Islamism continued. It was manifested in the form of more number of school/college/university girls and working women adorning headscarves and this trend has continued. However, persecution of religious extremists continued unabated and Egypt became a typical police state.
During his tenure, there was sharp increase in inflow of foreign investment. The economy retained its growth rate of 6-7%. Thriving prosperity further enriched the rich class and gave birth to a new class of super-rich Egyptians which monopolized economic programs. Hosni made no effort to bridge the rich-poor divide by reverting to Nasser’s economic policy or modifying Sadat’s open door policy benefiting the rich only. As a consequence to unemployment, high inflation and price hike, corruption in all government departments and insensitivity of ruling class, lava was simmering for quite sometime. Tunisian uprising provided the spark and led to popular uprising on 25 January and culminated on 11 February after Hosni grudgingly resigned and handed over power to Vice President Lt Gen Omar Suleiman and authorized Armed Forces Supreme Council under Field Marshal Tantawi to coordinate state affairs till next elections scheduled within six months.
Mubarak appointed PM Ahmed Shafiq resigned on 3 March. He was replaced by Essam Sharaf. Mubarak and his family were residing in his private mansion in Sharm el Sheikh since 11 February but it is reported that he is presently under treatment for cancer at Tabuk military base in Saudi Arabia. The interim regime in Cairo has imposed a ban on his travels and frozen assets of the family. The situation is still in fluid form but under control.