Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian President Whose Downfall Marked the Height of the Arab Spring, Dead at 91

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian strongman and autocrat felled by the largest national uprising of the region-wide protests known as the Arab Spring, died at a military hospital in Cairo on Tuesday morning, Reuters reported. He was 91 years old.

On January 23, Mubarak's son Alaa had tweeted that his father underwent an undisclosed surgery but was "stable." But a month later, Alaa Mubarak tweeted that his father was still in intensive care, adding: "Oh, God."

Mubarak had led the country as it doubled its population even as the the social contract collapsed under his stringently autocratic rule. His ousting in 2011 magnified the Arab Spring from nationwide demonstrations in Tunisia into a regional geopolitical phenomenon, the impact of which still reverberates today from Yemen to Syria and beyond. After his downfall in January 2011, he was prosecuted for corruption and murder, but was only found guilty of embezzling state funds. Following his release from the hospital in March 2017, he made his way to a palatial home in the Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo.

"Though many Egyptians are less harsh on him now than nine years ago, he will still be remembered as an Arab president who was tried while alive," said Bahgat Korany, a professor of international relations at the American University in Cairo. Korany told Newsweek that in addition to a reign of corruption, Mubarak will be remembered for "making Egypt a monarchical republic."

An absolutist of the Arab world, Mubarak spent much of his final years as an ailing recluse in the same affluent mansion from where he once governed.

"I have never, ever been seeking power," Mubarak said at the height of the protests, "and the people know the difficult circumstances that I shouldered my responsibility and what I offered this country in war and peace, just as I am a man from the armed forces and it is not in my nature to betray the trust or give up my responsibilities and duties."

Eventually, those duties would be tendered by force.

A longtime American ally, Mubarak ruled Egypt as a titan of the region and the longest-serving authoritarian in the modern Egyptian state's history. He battled age and Islamic fundamentalists simultaneously throughout his rein, staving off multiple assassination attempts even as he struggled with diminishing health. His tenure was tenuous if muddled. While quelling the Muslim Brotherhood and any secular movement rearing against his reign he nurtured radical Salafisim.

From pilot to minister to dictator

Mubarak, the son of a government official in the Ministry of Justice trained in the Soviet Union and went on to become a decorated fighter pilot. He led Egypt's air force in its attack on Israel in the War of 1973 and rose to the role of deputy war minister, eventually becoming vice president to Anwar Sadat, in 1975.

"Those were the best days. The best days of my life is when I raise the flag of Egypt over the Sinai," Mubarak said in his final address to the nation during the protests. "I believe that the majority of Egyptian people know who Hosni Mubarak is, and it pains me what has been expressed by some people from my own country."

After Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Mubarak took office. He led the country through a bout of prosperity in the 1990s as he upheld his predecessor's peace agreement with Israel and helped forge a relationship between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by Yasser Arafat. Mubarak acted as a de-facto mediator for the U.S. across the region and was the recipient of billions in state aid from America, continuing Sadat's trend in moving Egypt, a former Soviet ally, firmly into the American sphere of influence.

Under Mubarak corruption and cronyism bloomed in the halls of the Egyptian parliament and beyond. His son led the National Democratic Party. Political dissidents were hushed. Public anger grew over the nepotism and later the forceful use of military tribunals and emergency laws which sowed the roots of an uprising spawned by Mubarak and growing regional unrest and anger.

"What many outside observers still fail to appreciate is that the protesters on Tahrir demanded far more than just the removal of Mubarak," Amy Austin Holmes, a visiting scholar at the Middle East Initiative at Harvard University and the author of Coups and Revolutions, told Newsweek. "They were also opposed to the police state that protected Mubarak—and the crony capitalists who profited off his corrupt rule."

Egyptians young and old took to Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo, on 25 January 2011, emboldened by the mass protests that saw dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali toppled in neighboring Tunisia 11 days prior. They called for democracy and law. Hundreds of protestors were killed while demanding an end to poverty, rampant unemployment, and the police state. Their protests, which came to be numbered in the millions, were broadcast around the world, bolstered in part by social media. After 18 days of protests, he ceded power on February 11, 2011.

"I preferred to give up my post as president, placing the interest of the nation and its people over any other interest," he said in a message broadcast on Al Arabiya. "I chose to keep away from the political life, wishing all best and progress for Egypt and its people with the period ahead."

Many misinterpreted the speech, believing he had not actually stepped down until the following day. In fact, Mubarak tried to run away. He fled to a personal bolthole along the banks of the Red Sea. The country, however, brought him back and he stood trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of the anti-government protestors, but was retried and acquitted while being held at the military hospital, eventually charged with only the most minor of crimes and sent home under state protection. His sons Alaa and Gamal both served prison sentences but were acquitted of the corruption charges.

Mubarak enjoyed special treatment under the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who himself overthrew Mubarak's democratically immediate successor, Mohamed Morsi. Mubarak spent his final years between detention, his home in Cairo, and his seaside villa in Sharm el-Sheikh. While held in the military hospital in Cairo, he holed up in three large rooms where he read newspapers and visited with a revolving door of friends, family, and confidants. From his room he had a view of the Nile River.

In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2013, Farid al-Deeb, Mubarak's attorney, said the ousted president was spirited despite the pain in his knees which made him move slowly. He had long felt that he was a reluctant ruler, one who had tried to better a nation he ultimately failed. "He may think he made political mistakes," Al-Deeb said. "But he is convinced he didn't commit any crimes."