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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT