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 has been held since he stepped down during the country's uprising in 2011. He was convicted in 2012 on charges of inciting violence against protesters and was sentenced to life in prison. But Mubarak appealed, and a retrial was granted. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been held since he stepped down during the country's uprising in 2011. He was convicted in 2012 on charges of inciting violence against protesters and was sentenced to life in prison. But Mubarak appealed, and a retrial was granted.
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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT