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Mubarak’s resignation: Behind the scenes

The victorious protests, organized largely over social media and watched live on television by millions around the world, altered Egyptian politics fundamentally, but not without cost. (AFP)
The victorious protests, organized largely over social media and watched live on television by millions around the world, altered Egyptian politics fundamentally, but not without cost. (AFP)
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13 May 2020 04:05:44 GMT9
13 May 2020 04:05:44 GMT9

Abdellatif El-Menawy

  • It remains to be seen whether this turning point changed Egypt’s history for the better


On Feb. 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak, the former air force officer who succeeded the assassinated Anwar Sadat as Egypt’s president in 1981 and held on to power for three decades, finally resigned in the face of mass popular protests against his regime’s brutality and corruption.

As Arab News reported the following day, “fireworks burst over Tahrir Square and Egypt exploded with joy and tears of relief” at the fall of a man “who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of rule.”

The victorious protests, organized largely over social media and watched live on television by millions around the world, altered Egyptian politics fundamentally, but not without cost. Over the 18 days of what became known as the Jan. 25 Revolution, at least 846 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured.

In history, there are certain major events that should stop us and make us think for a long while. We must contemplate them to understand what happened, learn from them, avoid making the same mistakes, and emphasize what we found to be correct. One such day was Feb. 11, 2011, the day the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

On that day, I was responsible for managing the state media within the Mubarak government. I was not part of the regime in its political sense, but I was a professional employed by the state and had a role to play. I also had many friends in Tahrir Square demonstrating for what they believed in.

This date has gone down in the history of Egypt, and the conditions in which we live today have resulted from it. It was a real turning point in the country’s history, but whether it was for the worse or for the better, only history can decide. What is important is that change has occurred.

I will always remember this day very clearly. In the morning, the streets were filled with angry demonstrators, who were frustrated by Mubarak’s speech the night before. In that speech, Mubarak delegated power to his then-vice president, Omar Suleiman. I knew it would end on that day, but I did not know how.

In the morning, I received a phone call from a leading military figure, who told me that they would shortly need to release news about Mubarak’s intention to leave. I immediately called some media networks to tell them the news. Some reported it, while others avoided doing so. At midday, the president boarded a helicopter that would take him from the presidential palace to El-Nouzha Airport, east of Cairo. From there, he took a presidential plane to his residence in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Key Dates

  • 1

    Demonstrations triggered by police brutality break out across Egypt, with protesters on the “Day of Revolt” calling for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

    Timeline Image Jan. 25, 2011
  • 2

    In a televised speech that incites more protests, Mubarak says he won’t resign but “will use the remaining months of my term in office to fill the people’s demands.”

  • 3

    Mubarak again refuses to resign, proposing instead only to delegate some powers to vice president Omar Suleiman.

    Timeline Image Feb. 10, 2011
  • 4

    Suleiman announces Mubarak’s resignation and transfer of power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

    Timeline Image Feb. 11, 2011
  • 5

    Mubarak is ordered to face trial, accused of the murder of peaceful protesters.

  • 6

    Conservative Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi is elected president.

  • 7

    The trial begins of Mubarak, his two sons and others charged with corruption and the premeditated murder of protesters.

    Timeline Image Aug. 3, 2011
  • 8

    Mubarak is sentenced to life for not halting killings of protesters.

  • 9

    An appeal court overturns his life sentence and orders a retrial.

  • 10

    The court orders Mubarak’s release after two years in prison; he is placed under house arrest.

  • 11

    Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, is elected president with a landslide win.

  • 12

    Mubarak is sentenced to three years, and his sons to four, after being found guilty of embezzlement.

  • 13

    The highest appeal court clears Mubarak of conspiring to kill protesters.

  • 14

    Mubarak, now 88, is freed after having spent six years in custody.

  • 15

    Mubarak dies, aged 91, in Cairo. On El-Sisi’s orders he is buried with full military honors.

    Timeline Image Feb. 25, 2020

This was the first time since the crisis began that Mubarak was alone without his wife, children or even his advisers. As soon as he arrived at his residence, at about 1.30 p.m., he called Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It was a short telephone conversation, during which Mubarak said: “Hussein, I have decided to delegate full responsibility to you and the army. You are now in power.” Tantawi replied: “No, Mr. President, we will find another way. This was not what we wanted.” Mubarak said: “No, this is my decision. Speak to Omar Suleiman and make arrangements to announce this news to the public.”

Minutes later, I received a phone call from one of my army sources informing me that Suleiman was in a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. They were preparing an official statement to inform the nation of Mubarak’s resignation. The president wanted it to be a short statement, so Suleiman and Tantawi sat down to write it together. They decided Suleiman should read the statement, rather than a member of the army, so that it did not give the impression the president had been ousted by a military coup.

“The country has erupted in joy. The traffic has stopped. People are out of their cars, kissing and embracing, screaming, laughing and crying. Egypt is jubilant.”

Somayya Jabarti on Arab News’ front page, Feb. 12, 2011

About an hour after that, the army’s spokesperson, Ismail Atman, arrived at my office. After I greeted him, he opened his coat and pulled out something from the inside pocket, saying: “I have the statement.” He added: “I will wait here with the tape until I receive orders to broadcast it. They are still waiting for (Mubarak’s sons) Gamal, Alaa and their families to leave.”


A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Feb 12, 2011

It was strange. We were — literally — sitting on the biggest story in the world that day. We had to sit and chat indifferently, waiting for the next stage. We waited, and Atman phoned the council every few minutes. It was not long before he received news that Gamal and Alaa had arrived at the airport and were waiting for their mother, Suzanne. When she finally arrived at the airport, Atman received instructions to broadcast the announcement, so the two of us headed to the studio, which was two floors below my office.

It was strange. We were — literally — sitting on the biggest story in the world that day.

Abdellatif El-Menawy

Despite the fact the walk there took less than a minute, it felt like it took forever. We entered the control room, put the tape in the machine and pressed the play button. The film was 37 seconds long. Emotions began to overwhelm us. The statement was simple: “In the name of Allah the Merciful… Citizens, in these difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down as president of the republic and tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces with managing the affairs of the country. God bless.”

When the statement was broadcast, the country was in a state of clamor and excitement. But, during the years since that day, this clamor may have turned into questions, which everyone continues to ask each other.

  • Abdellatif El-Menawy, a columnist for Arab News, was responsible for managing the state media in Egypt on the day Mubarak stepped down. Twitter: @ALMenawy
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