Egypt was to hold a military funeral Wednesday for former president Hosni Mubarak, whose three decades of strong-arm rule ended in the Arab Spring protests of 2011.
The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared three days of mourning for Mubarak, who died aged 91 in a Cairo military hospital on Tuesday after years spent in relative seclusion.
“Mubarak in God’s hands,” read the front-page headline of state newspaper Al Ahram, with a black stripe cutting across a photograph of the veteran ruler often dubbed a modern-day “pharaoh”.
Generals and soldiers congregated at Cairo’s Mosheer Tantawi mosque, where cannons stood ready for a 21-gun salute to bid farewell to the former air force commander.
A military helicopter transported his body to the mosque, where his sons Alaa and Gamal, recently acquitted of corruption charges, were among the mourners.
The funeral was to focus not on Mubarak’s political legacy but his military life. The Soviet-trained fighter pilot with a life-long love for aviator sunglasses commanded Egypt’s air force during the 1973 war with Israel.
As Mubarak went on to lead the North African country, he relied heavily on the armed forces and security services to ensure stability and security, while maintaining close ties with Western powers that delivered billions in military aid.
The mass protests that eventually brought down Mubarak were an explosion of popular anger against his police state and the corruption and nepotism that to many marked his rule.
Mubarak then spent years in detention for his role in the deaths of hundreds of protesters but was freed in 2017 after the convictions were overturned.
In the post-Mubarak years, Egypt was torn by political turmoil — bloody unrest in the streets, the short-lived rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, and his 2013 ouster by Sisi, another military man, who reimposed strict police powers.
Dozens of Mubarak supporters came Wednesday to mourn Mubarak, among them Samir Gaafar, 59, who was wearing a flowing galabeya tunic and holding a picture of the ex-president with a message denouncing the 2011 uprising.
“I’m here today because the poor people in this country have become poorer after Mubarak,” he told AFP.
– ‘Dignity and arrogance’ –
Mubarak’s full-honours military funeral contrasted with the low-key burial of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president.
Morsi died last year after a heart attack in court and was buried quietly at night with no fanfare, as Egyptian media derided his single year in office.
Mubarak’s mixed legacy is that of a strongman who employed emergency powers and rigged elections, and of a guarantor of stability who battled jihadists and kept peace with Israel.
The former air force chief and vice president became head of state in 1981 after Islamist militants assassinated his predecessor Anwar Sadat during a military parade.
Mubarak, who was sitting next to him, was wounded. He would survive several more attempts on his life, including in 1995 when militants sprayed his motorcade with bullets at a roadblock in Ethiopia.
Mubarak gained favour from key ally the United States by maintaining Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
But his own country, once the predominant political and cultural power in the Arab world, remained hobbled by graft and poverty.
Mohamed Amin, a columnist for the biggest privately owned daily, Al Masry Youm, wrote that “you can agree or disagree with the departed president, but one thing is for sure: Mubarak never betrayed his country”.
He compared Mubarak’s fate with those of other autocratic Arab rulers in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Tunisia, writing that “his end was unlike Kadhafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh or Saddam Hussein. He didn’t seek asylum like Ben Ali.
“He said he would live here and die here. He pushed on with his dignity and his arrogance.”