Hosni Mubarak will not go away. Even as Egyptians go to the polls to elect a new president this weekend, the old one is allegedly flirting with death in a prison hospital, capturing the country's attention with conflicting reports that he has slipped into a coma, or that doctors had to revive him twice after cardiac arrest, or that he is "drinking juice."
Last year's uprising, Mubarak's flight to his home in Sharm el-Sheikh, his trial, fresh elections, and the hope of a new constitution were supposed to set Egypt on a path toward a brighter future. It has not been that easy, however. Mubarak and the institutions he put in place continue to linger like an unwanted houseguest, making a mockery of Egypt's ostensible transition to democracy.
Mubarak made an indelible mark on Egypt during the 29 years, 3 months, 28 days, and 6 hours he ruled Egypt. Even with the man behind bars, his legacy has somehow persevered, and the revolution has failed to conclusively wipe out the old order. Whether Mubarak's demise is imminent or not, he has escaped the grasp of the revolutionaries, only deepening the frustrations that have pervaded Egypt's transition. The June 2 verdict of the three-judge panel -- which acquitted his sons, Gamal and Alaa, on charges of corruption and did not actually find him guilty on charges of ordering the killings of protesters (despite his former vice president's testimony that Mubarak knew of "every bullet fired") -- puts him beyond the reach of Egyptians who were seeking some combination of justice and revenge. Many Egyptians not only wanted to see Mubarak convicted for the crimes committed during the uprising -- they wanted the verdict to reflect his regime's three decades of corruption, abuse of power, and repression.
It should not be about Mubarak any longer, yet Egypt's present drama remains a prisoner of the former president and his legacy. Mubarak is not only still making headlines, but the political, economic, and social pathologies that he spawned are pulling Egyptians back to the bad old days. An anti-Christian pogrom last October, when 28 people lost their lives after the Egyptian Army attacked a predominantly Coptic protest near downtown Cairo, was the manipulations of the previous era coming back to haunt Egyptians. In a replay of a dynamic that prevailed during the Mubarak era, that incident has driven many Copts either out of Egypt or into the arms of presidential contender Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak's last prime minister. It is the same old story: Egypt's dungeons remain filled with revolutionaries and activists who seek a just and free political system, while the people who have brutalized them sleep comfortably in their own beds.
Even the dismal choice between Egypt's two presidential candidates is evocative of the Mubarak era. Shafiq's candidacy revives the old calculation that Egyptians prefer authoritarianism over theocracy. As every profile of him notes, he was an air force commander like Mubarak. Yet that similarity is superficial, an accidental factoid. Shafiq could have been an artilleryman -- his presidential run would still represent a replay of the army's struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood that was a central theme of the Mubarak era.