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The Legacy Of Hosni Mubarak And The Arab Spring


Egypt's former dictator Hosni Mubarak died today. He was 91. He had ruled Egypt for 30 years - years defined by corruption and repression, years that came to an end in 2011. That is when Egyptians protested in the streets by the millions, calling for democracy and the rule of law. It was the wave of popular unrest that came to be known as the Arab Spring.

Well, to understand Mubarak's legacy, I'm joined now by Michele Dunne. She's director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Michele Dunne, welcome.

MICHELE DUNNE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So how will you remember Mubarak?

DUNNE: You know, he was in power for 30 years. And over those three decades, he did a number of things. But I think the real contrast in terms of how people see Mubarak is between his regional and international role and then how he ruled the country domestically.

KELLY: Right.

DUNNE: Regionally, you know, he generally was seen as a positive figure, as a stabilizer, as, in some ways, a peacemaker. And a lot of the positive things we hear people saying about him today are related to that. Domestically, it's a much more mixed legacy. There were some people domestically who did very well under Mubarak. There was a crony class, but then there was a tremendous amount of economic inequality, corruption, stagnation, human rights abuses at times very intense. And people remember that, too.

And I think Egyptians will be arguing with each other for a long time about the Mubarak legacy. In other words, did he provide the kind of stability that they needed? Or was he at the root of all the really deep problems that Egypt has today?

KELLY: And it sounds like the answer is possibly both.

DUNNE: It is both. And one of the interesting things about what's going on right now is that Egyptians are contrasting the Mubarak period with the period of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current president. And there, I think, there's sort of a widespread feeling that they're even worse off now than they were then. And because of that, there's a kind of nostalgia among some Egyptians for Mubarak.

KELLY: Let's go back to that moment in 2011, when there was just day after day after day of protests and all of that - the crowds and the energy in Tahrir Square when he was toppled. The hopes raised for Egypt, and then for the region, for democracy. Where do those hopes stand now?

DUNNE: Those hopes have been crushed for the present. There's such harsh rule now, where very harsh counterterrorist laws are used against people who even would publish something critical of Sisi on social media, for example. So Egyptians, I think, are - many of them are feeling deeply depressed now. And also, the economy isn't doing that well, and the military has come to dominate the economy even more than it did under Mubarak.

But, you know, it's a matter of time. Egypt has a youthful population, and I think there will be more pressure for change. We saw some protests against the Sisi regime even in September. But, you know, it's going to take a while, I think, for Egyptians to find their way forward to a different vision for their country. And there's a - kind of a (laughter) prevailing sense of depression right now.

KELLY: And then what about more broadly across the region? What example has Mubarak's 30-year rule and then what ultimately happened to him set for other countries, other people watching and seeing how things might play out in their own nation?

DUNNE: The region is now in a kind of second wave of the Arab Spring, with major uprisings in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq just in the last year. And in some of these countries, particularly Algeria and Sudan, which had forms of military rule that worked similar to Egypt in a way, one can really see and hear from the protesters that they learned from what people went through in Egypt; that they learned, for example, not to trust the military to take them through a democratic transition. And they learned that public protest would have to be sustained for a much longer time than Egyptians did if they want to bring about real change.

So, you know, we are seeing progress in a way. You know, the whole old contract between governments and citizens in this region is breaking down in one country after another.

KELLY: That is Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thank you.

DUNNE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.