Sadat, Mubarak and Beyond

Sadat, Mubarak and Beyond

One day, Egypt will enter the post-Mubarak era, and until then uncertainty remains. The last transition of power was nearly 30 years ago and not much has changed since then: shortages of basic foodstuffs, external political pressures and crackdowns on political opponents. However, the difference is that now the tensions are not on the same scale. The talk of the political arena, after the shoddy 2010 parliamentary elections, is about the health of Mubarak and in an effort to reassure disenfranchised Egyptians, Minister Nazif announced that there is a system for the smooth transfer of power and even Mubarak’s wife, announced that the President is alive and well.


The similarities between the present time and 1981 are all too familiar, as Sadat rounded up and arrested his political opponents including, liberal-minded journalists and of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak’s sweeping round-up of the Muslim Brotherhood before, during and after the 2010 elections – knowing that true democracy would likely bring the MB to power –  is a creepy reminder of days gone by and some wonder if it could lead to similar consequences. Some may say that Egypt ’s economy is growing, yet the shortage of basic commodities is a reality of life in Egypt and the stalemate with Israel continues.


While new satellite cities spring up around Cairo , there are still villages in Egypt with no access to drinking water – a problem that has been recurrent for years. The poorest Egyptians have to stay for long periods of time in lines, waiting for shrinking loaves. The greatest problem facing Mubarak today is unemployment and a growing sense of despair for a brighter future. In comparison, Sadat’s time might be seen as ‘the good old days’.


In 1981, 21.5% of the Gross National Income (GNI) went to the wealthiest 5% of the population, while the poorest 20% of the population received a mere 5% of Egypt ’s income. At present, there is a general feeling that Egypt ’s economic growth is only benefiting a small proportion of the population. Today, more than 17% of the population live under the poverty line.


Mubarak and Sadat have some similarities: they are both set in their ways and fear any kind of dissent. The main difference is that Sadat had a successor – Mubarak, while Mubarak has never had one officially, yet many believe he is grooming his son, Gamal, to take his place. It is uncertain how the transition of power, this time round, will play out. But while Mubarak sees himself as a paternal leader, tough but fair, he tends to be more like Sadat when it comes to dealing with his political opponents, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Sadat and Mubarak have little tolerance for journalists and freedom of speech.


Sadat took a political risk and turned away from Russia, to embrace the US in an uneven relationship that included Israel . Mubarak’s role in the Middle East is still seen as ‘peace maker’ but his growing antagonism for Iran is seen to outweigh any hostility toward Israel . Perhaps Sadat would turn in his grave if he knew that some 13% of the Israeli army’s civilian employees are Egyptian nationals. Mubarak has successfully and ‘legally’ eliminated nearly all his political opposition, leaving mainly the Muslim Brotherhood who just will not go away. The Muslim Brotherhood was foresworn violence while Mubarak’s security apparatus – estimated at 1.4 million – is at least twice the size it was under Sadat. Mubarak’s security forces monopolize the ‘legitimate’ use of armed power and make it unlikely that violent change will ever take place.


Since Sadat, the world has changed greatly and while Mubarak faces many of the same challenges as Sadat – and with much of his paranoia – it is difficult to determine who his successor will be.