Hosni Mubarak: A Living Legacy of Mass Torture and Arbitrary Detention

The death of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak robs Egyptians of a key chance to see justice done for the litany of abuses committed during his 30-year rule, including the deaths of hundreds of protesters in the 2011 unrest that ended his presidency.

Hosni Mubarak, who died in Cairo today at the age of 91, was originally given a life sentence in 2012 for failing to protect protesters from being killed and injured. Amnesty International at the time welcomed the ruling as a “significant step” in ending impunity, but the conviction was overturned and Mubarak was freed in March 2017.

The signature policies of Hosni Mubarak's rule - mass torture and arbitrary detention - remain a daily reality in Egypt
Philip Luther, MENA Research and Advocacy Director

“The signature policies of Hosni Mubarak’s rule – mass torture and arbitrary detention – remain a daily reality in Egypt. Mubarak was never held to account for the litany of abuses he oversaw,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director at Amnesty International.

“Hosni Mubarak’s legacy lives on through the tools of repression he created, most visibly in the unaccountable security services that maintain an iron grip on the country nine years after his fall.”

At least 840 people were killed and 6,000 injured during 18 days of protest that finally toppled Mubarak. In addition, victims of prolonged arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment during his 30 years of rule have yet to see any semblance of truth, justice or reparation. 

In spite of a lengthy charge sheet including murder, attempted murder, corruption and profiteering, the only crime Mubarak was ever definitively convicted for is embezzlement of public funds. For this he was sentenced to a three-year prison term. Mubarak served a large part of his sentence in detention in military hospital due to ongoing health problems.

Hosni Mubarak became president of Egypt after the assassination of his predecessor in 1981. He immediately imposed a state of emergency that gave sweeping powers to the security forces and restricted freedom of the press, expression and assembly. It remained in place until after he was ousted, before being reinstated in April 2017.

The Emergency Law also created a shadow justice system that circumvented the normal judicial system and the limited safeguards it ensured. This resulted in tens of thousands of people being held without charge or trial, often in appalling conditions. Today the Egyptian authorities have recreated this system under counterterrorism legislations.

During his presidency, Hosni Mubarak was fond of promoting his role as commander of the air force in the 1973 war against Israel to gain popular legitimacy. This did not, however, resonate with the disillusioned younger generation, who were increasingly angered by the widespread violations of human rights and lack of economic opportunity. These factors led to sustained opposition to Mubarak’s rule and policies, culminating in thousands flooding the streets to demand democratic reform and social justice in 2011. Mubarak’s 30 years in power ended in 18 days of protests which were met with violence and repression, including tear gas and live bullets.

To this day Egypt's security forces act as if they are above the law
Philip Luther

Mubarak’s rule also oversaw the creation of the notorious and much-feared State Security Investigations Agency (SSIS) which at its peak had over 100,000 employees and was believed to be responsible for hundreds of cases of torture and other abuses such as arbitrary arrests and detentions.

Though the SSIS was formally dissolved after the 2011 uprising, the body was reinstituted under the new name National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA has maintained the same torture methods which include suspending victims by the wrists and ankles, savage beatings and electric shocks, and enjoyed the same impunity.

“Mubarak entrenched the Egyptian ‘deep state’ which, in turn, cemented the security forces as unassailable and unaccountable. They have not been held to account for the gross human rights violations committed in the Mubarak era and in the years since. To this day they continue to act as if they are above the law,” said Philip Luther.

Today, Egypt continues to be ruled by a president from the military who is overseeing an unprecedented human rights crisis, where the same appalling human rights violations are being systematically practised, in many cases on an even wider scale. Mass arbitrary detention without trial and systematic torture remain the everyday reality for many Egyptians and their families – a stark reminder that impunity for human rights violations perpetuates further abuses and injustice.