Egypt’s Mubarak: three decades of rigid rule
Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who has handed over power to his prime minister while recovering from surgery in Germany, is a survivor who has escaped six known assassination bids during three decades of rigid rule.
Mubarak has transferred executive power to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif until he has recovered from a gall bladder operation on Saturday at Germany’s Heidelberg University Hospital.
The official MENA news agency said tests on Friday showed Mubarak, 81, was suffering from chronic infections in his gall bladder.
Mubarak delegated powers in 2004 to then prime minister Atef Ebeid when he sought treatment in Germany for a slipped disc.
The father of two is married to half-Welsh Suzanne but has kept his private life carefully guarded, and his health is usually a taboo subject in the country he has ruled since 1981.
He has always been said to lead a healthy life and was once known for enjoying an almost daily game of squash on the private court he built at the palace.
In 2007, speculation about his health snowballed to the extent that Mubarak was forced to make an unscheduled public appearance to put to rest the rumours.
A year later, Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Dustur, was sentenced to two months in prison for writing about Mubarak’s health. He was later granted a presidential pardon.
Mubarak has escaped assassination attempts at least six times since watching his predecessor and mentor Anwar Sadat gunned down at a military parade in 1981 by an Islamist gunman.
Born in 1928 in the Nile Delta village of Menufiyah, Mubarak rose through the ranks of the air force and fought in the October 1973 war with Israel that restored a measure of Egyptian pride.
He was appointed vice president to Sadat in 1975 and took over as president within two weeks of the murder of the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
Mubarak’s rule has been buttressed by an emergency law that saw the imprisonment and trials of both Islamist militants such as the ones behind Sadat’s assassination and critics of his regime.
His government, which rules the Arab world’s most populous country of 80 million people, is the frequent target of domestic opposition, ranging from Islamists to secular and liberal dissidents.
He has mostly been successful in extirpating the violent Islamist threats to his regime, quashing militant groups which carried out attacks during the 1980s and 1990s, and a resurgence of attacks on tourist resorts that killed dozens between 2004 and 2006.
He survived an assassination attempt when gunmen fired on his convoy during a 1995 visit to Ethiopia — which is believed to have been masterminded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command.
Large portraits of the burly leader, with his jet-black combed back hair and aquiline nose, adorn public buildings and tower above Egypt’s motorways, while his every move is religiously reported in the official press.
His government’s ties with the United States and Israel have made him a target of criticism across the region, especially during the 2006 Israel war in Lebanon and last year’s Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Domestic opponents have also accused Washington of turning a blind eye to his government’s human rights abuses, with rights groups saying torture and arbitrary arrests routinely take place in the country.
Egypt undertook some reforms in the 2000s but rebuffed pressure from former US president George W. Bush to free jailed dissidents as unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs.
The last decade saw an introduction of economic reforms while security forces cracked down on bloggers and opposition activists belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, which controls a fifth of parliament.
Through a series of constitutional reforms, the government has also made it harder for opposition candidates to contest presidential elections after the country’s first multi-candidate election in 2005.
Mubarak, whose fifth six-year-term as president ends in 2011, has refused to comment on his succession or whether he will contest the upcoming vote.
Press reports in Egypt have suggested that his son Gamal Mubarak will likely succeed him but neither father nor son has made any clear statement on the matter.