Will Mubarak actually be released now?
Maybe, just maybe, could people be entertaining the thought that Mubarak’s repressiveness was a reaction to the situation in Egypt at the time he came to power? And that said situation has not changed all that much in all those intervening years? Mubarak (or any other potential Egyptian leader who is not a member of the Brotherhood or a similar Islamicist group) faces the classic dilemma of becoming repressive or allowing forces bent on destroying the government—and instituting a different sort of repression—to prosper. The people don’t get liberty either way, although it’s also unclear just how many of them are actually yearning for it.
An excellent example of the dilemma was the Shah of Iran versus the mullahs who followed him. I’ve written so many articles on that topic that I hardly know which ones to recommend first, but try this one, which compares Iran and Egypt, as well as this one and this three-part series.
Islamists were enraged by Sadat’s Sinai treaty with Israel, particularly the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad. According to interviews and information gathered by journalist Lawrence Wright, the group was recruiting military officers and accumulating weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch “a complete overthrow of the existing order” in Egypt. Chief strategist of El-Jihad was Aboud el-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose “plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing – he expected – a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.”
In February 1981, Egyptian authorities were alerted to El-Jihad’s plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information. In September, Sadat ordered a highly unpopular roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Jihad members, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Bishop, and highly ranked clergy members, but also intellectuals and activists of all ideological stripes.
The round up missed a Jihad cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Anwar Sadat that October.
Mubarak, who was Sadat’s VP, was present at that assassination and slightly wounded in it. It was his baptism of fire, as it were. On succeeding to the office of the presidency, he declared a state of emergency requiring emergency law—a state that ended up lasting the three decades of his reign. We can deplore that fact—and most of the people of Egypt resented it—but I’m not at all sure he had any kinder, gentler alternatives. And the situation does not appear to be substantially different today for anyone who would keep the Brotherhood from placing its iron clamp on the country.
[ADDENDUM: Also see this.]