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 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 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
ADVERTISEMENT