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Mubarak, Mugabe regimes: So many parallels to draw

Leonard Makombe

FOLLOWING the ouster of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, many Zimbabweans are of the view that the ejected head of state and his Zimbabwean counterpart, President Robert Mugabe, are mirror images of each other.

 

There are uncanny similarities between the two in terms of their policies, time in office and relations with Western countries.

 

Political analysts said both leaders wielded too much power, built a system of patronage and a culture of corruption while paying lip service to addressing problems facing ordinary people.

Mubarak, with a strong military background, became a darling of the West upon his ascendancy to power in 1981.

In his inauguration speech, Mubarak stated that he would pursue policies his predecessor Anwar el Sadat had initiated, especially peace and “reconciliation with Israel inside internationally recognised borders”, which won him a lot of respect and hearts, especially at the height of the Cold War.

To many in Zimbabwe, this reminded them of Mugabe’s reconciliation speech a year earlier, when he said: “I urge you, whether you are black or white, to join me in a new pledge to forget our grim past, forgive others and forget, join hands in a new amity, and together, as Zimbabweans trample upon racialism, tribalism and regionalism, and work hard to reconstruct and rehabilitate our society as we reinvigorate our economic machinery.”

Mubarak, who was booted out after 18 days of protests against his rule, served as the country’s president for 30 years after Sadat’s assassination in October 1981.

A lot was expected from Mubarak when he took over, but last week, Middle East analysts said he was to be known “more for what he was expected to do than what he achieved”.

Mugabe enjoyed good relations with Mubarak, which explains why the Zimbabwean president had a habit of stopping over in Egypt en route to the United Nations Summits and other destinations.

Macdonald Chibika, a researcher and political analyst based in Harare, said it was interesting to note the similarities between the two leaders.

“They (Mugabe and Mubarak) ruled for 30 years under harsh conditions and they wanted to retain power at all costs,” said Chibika.

He added that Mugabe had used the GPA to retain power and Mubarak tried a number of failed strategies to do the same when Egyptians marched demanding his exit.

Dewa Mavhinga, a South African based analyst, said Mubarak’s authoritarian rule closely resembled that of Mugabe in that he resorted to a “raft of emergency laws and other draconian pieces of legislation to keep a disgruntled electorate muzzled”.

“Again like his Zimbabwe counterpart, Mubarak relied heavily on the military and the police to maintain a grip on power,” he said.

Another political analyst, Charles Mangongera said it was not necessarily true to say the two leaders had similarities but the political systems in the two countries were the same.

“The systems thrived on repression and the use of security apparatus,” said Mangongera. “In most cases the police is used and at times the military when it is necessary to do so especially during elections.”

Mangongera said the problem could be that there has not been leadership transformation in the two countries.

Apart from the excellent relations between the two and their “autocratic leadership”, they adopted almost similar policies.

In 1991, Mubarak embarked on economic reforms prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and this was undertaken a year after Zimbabwe embarked on the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).

Just like with ESAP, the economic reforms in Egypt saw a jump in gross domestic product per capita based  on purchase power parity –– a comparison of the standard of living between countries by taking into account the impact of their exchange rates.

However, an increase in the GDP per capita based on purchase power parity was not matched with political reforms as Mubarak continued governing the country like a monarch and his National Democratic Party controlled all of the 454 seats in the assembly.

Until a 2005 constitutional amendment, Mubarak was the only presidential candidate in referendums which were held every six years to approve his candidature for the top post.  Mubarak won by 87% in the first multi-party elections held in September 2005 and the losing candidate Ayman Nour of the El-Ghad Party was subsequently arrested on phony forgery charges.

While the Zimbabwe constitution did not debar presidential aspirants, there were times when Mugabe stood unopposed after candidates withdrew from the 1996 presidential polls and the June 2008 presidential election runoff.

In 1996, Zanu Ndonga president Ndabaningi Sithole and Zimbabwe Rhodesia Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa withdrew shortly before the election, though their names remained on the ballot.

Sithole, who was under virtual house arrest due to charges of attempting to assassinate Mugabe, withdrew after claiming that Mugabe’s Zanu PF was undermining his campaign, whilst Muzorewa pulled out after the Supreme Court turned down his bid to postpone the elections on the basis that the electoral rules were unfair.

While, MDC-T president Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential run-off citing violence and intimidation during that period which MDC-T says its lost more than 200 of its supporters while thousands others were assaulted and maimed.

Like Mugabe, who persecuted his opponents by arresting them as he did with Sithole and Tsvangirai who were charged with treason, Mubarak arrested Nour in January 2005 and charged him with forging Powers of Attorney to secure the formation of the El-Ghad party.

After a strong intervention from European parliamentarians, Nour was freed in March 2005 and began campaigning for the Egyptian presidency. However, on December 24 2005, he was sentenced to five years in jail and was released in February 2009 on health grounds.

Unlike his Zimbabwean counterpart who has refused to deal the succession issue, Mubarak, sensing growing frustration over his rule, had started grooming his son Gamal to take over from him.

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