Skip to main content

What Mubarak's release means

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
August 22, 2013 -- Updated 1855 GMT (0255 HKT)
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 85, has been held since shortly after he was removed from power in 2011. He was convicted last year on charges of inciting violence against protesters during the popular uprising the led to his ouster and, eventually, the elections that brought Mohammed Morsy to power. He was sentenced to life in prison but appealed, and a retrial was granted early this year. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 85, has been held since shortly after he was removed from power in 2011. He was convicted last year on charges of inciting violence against protesters during the popular uprising the led to his ouster and, eventually, the elections that brought Mohammed Morsy to power. He was sentenced to life in prison but appealed, and a retrial was granted early this year.
HIDE CAPTION
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
Mubarak through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A court in Egypt ordered the release of former president Hosni Mubarak from jail
  • Frida Ghitis: Could it really be -- might Egypt end up exactly where it began?
  • She says there's a realization that legitimate rule requires consent of the people
  • Ghitis: Egypt and the Middle East are not the same as when Mubarak was toppled

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- Could it really be: Might Egypt end up exactly where it began?

The decision by an Egyptian court to release former President Hosni Mubarak from prison and place him under house arrest for now adds to the impression that Egypt has come full circle, returning precisely to where it stood before the people toppled Mubarak, bringing an end to his 30-year-long dictatorship.

It might seem that way, but that is the wrong conclusion. Egypt is a very different place from what it was before Mubarak fell. And after 2½ years of tumultuous upheaval, so, too, is the rest of the Middle East.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

To say the revolution has not gone as planned is to state the obvious. Mubarak's release is an important and rather disheartening symbol of the reverses faced by those who wanted to see dictatorship replaced by democracy.

Since the last day Mubarak was president, Egypt has experienced the toppling of two regimes, a failed attempt at democracy, and an enormous amount of bloodshed. In the process, the country has learned many lessons. The innocence of 2011 is gone.

There is a new maturity, a new realism. There's no sign of Jeffersonian democracy anywhere in the Arab Middle East, but there is a new notion that those who govern require the consent of the people before they can enjoy legitimacy in their position.

A regime may be able to stay in power without that seal of popular acceptability, but it will be tagged as a dictatorship; it will remain unstable and hated. Its survival will constitute an affront to the dignity of the nation. No government wants to be seen that way. No citizen wants to be ruled that way.

The Middle East may not look like what most people wanted it to, but it has been transformed.

Muslim Brotherhood arrest
Mubarak supporters call for his return
The Egyptians that want to be heard

That's why before the Egyptian military moved in to remove Mohamed Morsy from the presidency, it made sure it had strong popular support. More people signed a petition calling for Morsy to step down than voted for him in the presidential election.

Egypt is now governed by a prime minister handpicked by military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but el-Sisi relies on public approval in a way Mubarak never did. The situation, to be sure, lends itself to dangerous populist manipulation and nobody would ever confuse the current structure with a democracy, but it includes important elements that could eventually produce a more democratic future.

Even now, with the military in control, the notion that the people support the army is el-Sisi's greatest argument in defense of his position.

The people have been empowered in a way they never were before. The mindset of those who lived under decades of dictatorship has been changed.

Much else has changed. Since the intoxicating optimism of Tahrir Square, people have learned that revolutions are hard to control. The disastrous experiment under the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government, the economic free fall and the violence Egyptians have endured have offered a stark lesson to Egypt and its neighbors.

Those who would like to see more inclusive regimes, more democratic elements of government in other Middle Eastern countries, have watched Egypt. They have also watched the catastrophe that is befalling Syria. The revolutionary drive will now be tempered with cooler calculation. Reform won't come after a few weeks on the square chanting slogans for freedom.

Perhaps reformers in Egypt would become more circumspect. True reform will require systematic, gradual plodding. Democracy requires more than elections. Democratic institutions and a democratic mindset must be developed before it can succeed. A foundation of consensus is needed.

Another enormous change since the Mubarak days is the transformation of how people in the Middle East perceive key players in the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, has not only lost power -- it also has seen its reputation deeply eroded. It has shown itself as incompetent and untrustworthy in the eyes of many. The Brotherhood's Morsy, elected with only 24% of eligible voters, behaved as if he had an overwhelming mandate. He tried to propel the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda, pushing a constitution written by his Brotherhood allies, appointing Brotherhood members to key positions, allowing an atmosphere of intimidation and persecution against non-Muslims, and trying to put himself above the law.

As a result, his initially strong approval ratings fell steadily until millions took to the streets demanding his resignation. Before he was overthrown, 70% of Egyptians told pollsters they worried the Muslim Brotherhood was trying to "Islamicize" the country against their will.

The Muslim Brotherhood has now been tested. It failed.

That Egyptian experiment will reverberate in a time of turbulence. It's not only the Muslim Brotherhood whose image has changed.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad was once viewed as a moderate, even a reformer. With more than 100,000 dead in that country's civil war, he is now viewed as a ruthless dictator, even if the popular uprising against him now includes many Islamist fighters, whose ideology is rejected by supporters of democratic change.

The Arab uprisings, even if Mubarak becomes a free man again, have weakened other organizations. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, has tarnished its name by joining the fight on Assad's side. Hamas, the Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, still has control of the Gaza strip, but it no longer enjoys the support of the bulk of the Egyptian public.

It may look as if Mubarak is re-entering the same stage he left; as if nothing had changed. But the former Egyptian president is walking onto a changed world. The last two years have rerouted the course of history.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT