Mubarak, the ‘Pharaoh’ toppled by the Arab Spring, dies at 91

FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak attends a meeting with Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani at the presidential palace in Cairo December 11, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) – Hosni Mubarak, who died on Tuesday, never expected to be president. But when a very public assassination thrust the former bomber pilot into the job, he made it his mission never to give it up.

His story became Egypt’s story for the next 30 years until, finally, his people found they could write it themselves, in a 2011 Arab Spring revolution that consigned him to history.

An unremarked vice president to Anwar Sadat, he was a stopgap in the anxious days of 1981 after Sadat was gunned down beside him at a military parade. Few thought he would last.

Yet slowly, surviving attempts on his own life, he became “Pharaoh”, presiding over decades of stagnation and oppression and offering his people a choice: Mubarak or mayhem.

Many believed him, not just in Egypt. U.S. administrations showered him – and the biggest army in the Middle East – with billions of dollars in gratitude for his loyalty to Sadat’s Cold War switch of allegiance and peace with Israel.

But it was his struggles with the Islamists – who by killing Sadat handed power accidentally to a man who would spend 30 years suppressing them – which defined his politics.

Yet to the question of how Egyptians should be governed in the future, he never had an answer beyond “Mubarak” and always refused to indicate a successor. Washington expected him to go on rigging elections till he died, when his son Gamal might take over.

“Nobody imagines that we can press a button and freedoms will arrive. Otherwise it would lead the country to chaos and that would be a danger to people,” Mubarak once said.

Mubarak died aged 91 on Tuesday after undergoing surgery, state television said.

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