After the thundering Arab nationalist rhetoric of Nasser, and the historic peace made with Israel by Sadat, Mubarak turned Egypt politically inward. He oversaw a process of liberal economic reform that benefited a small business and military elite at the cost of widening social gaps, even as the industrial base of Egypt eroded under his watch from its glory years in the 1950s.
Rampant inflation in recent years made it harder for millions to feed their families, and the promises by Mubarak and his investment banker son, Gamal, that economic liberalization would eventually lift Egyptians out of poverty were increasingly derided as a cruel joke by a citizenry watching their country's international standing and their own economic prospects decline.
Though many factors contributed to the social revolution that swept Mubarak away – the spread of communications technologies like the Internet, a youth bulge that had never known any ruler but him, the stunning evidence from Tunisia that a popular uprising could succeed – his economic failures were a crucial component.
Mubarak was born to a rural family in the Nile Delta and came up through the military, eventually becoming head of the Air Force. He was appointed vice president in 1975, and took power in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated by Islamist militants who were angered by the Camp David peace accords with Israel.
He kept a tight hold on power for the next three decade thanks to the infamous emergency law implemented after Sadat's murder. He and Omar Suleiman, the retired general and spy chief, ruthlessly and successfully pursued Islamist militants and squeezed out independent political organizations. During his reign, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) came to dominate parliament thanks to rigged elections and repressive political laws.