It takes many qualities to make a successful leader. The most critical one is to possess a sense of history, that is to be able to grasp the significance of the moment and to act accordingly — whether that means moving forward or even taking a step back.
Hosni Mubarak did not possess this quality — at least, not in his later years. The stubborn grasp of the 82-year-old politician to Egypt?s presidential post and his insistence on manipulating political developments in a country swept by popular uprising, raises questions about both his mental and his physical health.
On a different level, it also raises questions about the psychological profile of the leader at the time of his effective fall from power.
Mubarak, Egypt?s president — or more accurately, Egypt?s dictator — for the past 30 years refused to step down peacefully and, instead, went on to threaten his own people with chaos.
Did he not see the fate of Ben Ali, his Tunisian counterpart, who fled the country in disgrace — a politician who had to run away, maybe carrying all of his wealth with him but deprived of his honor?
Did he not remember the sad fate of Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, who also fled his country in shame after sending armored tanks to move against his own people?
Did he not recall that the exiled shah was forced to travel from one country to the next, eventually begging the United States to take him in for medical treatment? Did he not recall that the Persian leader was buried, like a foreigner, in Cairo, away from his country?
Surrounded by sycophants and intimidated staff, this veteran airforce pilot and one-time symbol of Arab pride, has been transformed into a stubborn old man who refuses to see the end, into a hated dictator who has made millions of dollars in under-the-table payments on the backs of his own people, a traitor.
Mubarak is now most likely negotiating his safe escape along with his wealth. He may also get away. But his name will have been tarnished forever. He will go down in his nation?s history as a tyrant who is responsible for the murder of hundreds of fellow Egyptians, as a tyrant who blackmailed his people before sliding into shame and oblivion.
A leader?s most basic quality is knowing when to step back; and when to step down.