Mubarak’s arrest a watershed moment for Egypt

April 14, 2011

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

For almost three decades he wielded unquestioned power, a seemingly invincible figure ruling with a sense of privilege and ruthlessness that epitomized autocrats across the Middle East.

Even when mass protests improbably forced him from power in February, it appeared highly unlikely that Hosni Mubarak, long a key U.S. ally in a volatile region, would ever be held to account for allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

But that all changed Wednesday, when authorities here confirmed the detention of the former Egyptian president and his two sons, a move immediately hailed by many as a surprising but shrewd step by the ruling military council to calm protests in the world’s most populous Arab nation.

“This is a landmark in the history of Egypt and the history of the Arab world,” said a jubilant Alaa Al Aswany, a well-known novelist and pro-democracy activist.

All at once, a long-unimaginable spectacle — a trio of Mubaraks under interrogation for corruption, abuse of power and other alleged crimes, including deadly violence against protesters — seemed like it might become reality. The long-elusive goal of accountability looms as potentially the next accomplishment of what people here simply call the Revolution, the 18 days of street protests that culminated in Mubarak’s resignation Feb. 11.

It is also a sign to the leaders of Yemen, Syria and other nations in turmoil of the risk of ceding power in the face of popular revolts. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syrian President Bashar Assad have responded with more violent crackdowns than Mubarak did as they seek to prevent protesters from gaining momentum. Saleh has even demanded immunity from prosecution as a condition of his possibly stepping down.

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