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‘And this too, shall pass away’: Remembering Egypt’s ex-president, Mubarak (1928-2020)

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And indeed, he has passed away. Now, he has to be referred to in the past because he has joined the passage of time into eternity. Now, supplications of penitence and redemption have to be offered in his favour because he has transited from the abode of work to that of reward. Now that his body has been interred, it means he has been left alone except with his good deeds. Ali bn Abi Talib says everybody has no homestead after death except that which he built while on earth; if he built it in goodness; what a beautiful abode that would be; if he built it (in swamps); what an evil abode that would be.

“And this too, shall pass away”. These words on marble have a history. During the classical Islamic period, one of the kings of the Abbasid era once asked an assemblage of wise men in his palace to produce a statement that would forever remain eternal; a statement that would be true and appropriate at all times and situations. Eventually, they presented the king with this statement- “And this too, shall pass away.” The king, we are told, did not bother to ask the wise men what they meant or had in mind in the first part of the statement- ‘and this too’. The king did not bother to ask them about this probably because he understood and perfectly well, what they meant. In other words, the fragment, “this too”, could have referenced the king himself. The king was ‘this too’; he was the unnamed referent. He was unnamed because, in real terms, he was nothing but a dot in the diagram of the world that was then; Husni Mubarak was ‘this too’ while he was President of the Arab Republic of Egypt. For him, this world has passed!

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He was named Muhammad Husni Mubarak. Before he entered politics, Mubarak was a career officer in the Egyptian Air Force. He served as its commander from 1972 to 1975 and rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal in 1973. Sometime in the 1950s, he returned to the Air Force Academy as an instructor, remaining there until early 1959. He assumed the presidency after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak’s presidency lasted almost thirty years, making him Egypt’s longest-serving ruler after Muhammad Ali Pasha, who ruled the country from 1805 to 1848. In other words, while Husni Mubarak ruled Egypt for close to thirty years, Muhammad Ali reigned for forty-three years. But the irony is this- when Husni Mubarak assumed authority over Egypt, the sovereignty of Muhammad Ali had become but a dream; a mirage.

Between 1981 and 2011 when he ruled over Egypt, Mubarak took Egypt to greater heights. The country recorded advancements in almost all fields of human endeavours. He increased the production of affordable housing, clothing, furniture, and medicine. He was one of a few Arab leaders who bore the pain of oppression and injustice that Palestinians have been suffering since 1948. He consequently took the decision to not visit Israel let alone normalize diplomatic relations with the occupier. Apparently well informed of the politics behind the so-call Gulf-War, Husni Mubarak did not support the 2003 Iraq War led by the US. It was his opinion that the fundamental injustice perpetrated by Western powers as evident in the seeming intractable Arab-Israeli conflict needed to be resolved first before other issues affecting the Arab world could be confronted.

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In 2009 when the Obama administration “indicated it would consider” extending protection to its Middle Eastern allies “if Iran continues its disputed nuclear activities”, it is instructive that Husni Mubarak was one of those Arab-Muslim leaders who declared, unequivocally, that “Egypt will not be part of any American nuclear umbrella intended to protect the Gulf countries”. In other words, despite the much-touted diplomatic rapprochement between Egypt and the United States, the then President Mubarak had the clear vision as to draw a line between diplomacy and under-hand imperialism.

Like every other thing human, Husni Mubarak’s reign was circumscribed by a lot of challenges. His reign could not have been perfect. It could not have been free of corruption. It could not have been free of graft; this is the age of graft. It could not have been free of scum; this has been an age of slum. Husni Mubarak tried to rein in forces calling for disintegration and in the process he demonized signs and symbols of Islam. The Ikhwan became rats to be routed. The President soon became the spirit and the soul of Misr; he thought without him, Egypt would not exist.

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Husni Mubarak is therefore not dead. He is alive. He remains alive as a metaphor for all earthly powers that seek to live beyond the ‘pass’. His achievements remain milestones that successful generations in the Arab world shall forever strive to surpass. In his failures, and indeed foibles- show me a human without one- lie great lessons for Muslims to learn- lessons in the ephemerality of power, in the transience of authority, in the shortness of all earthly sovereignty. Husni Mubarak has passed on as if he never passed this way.
(0812246511 for text messages only)
Afis Ayinde Oladosu Ph.D
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies
Dean, Faculty of Arts,
University of Ibadan,
Ibadan, Nigeria

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In this article:
Muhammad Hosni Mubarak
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