A month later, Egyptair Flight 648 was hijacked on its way from Athens to Cairo and diverted to Malta. After the hijackers shot eight passengers, Mubarak sent soldiers onboard. More than 50 innocent people were killed.
Then on Feb. 25, 1986, Mubarak got the news that his own security police were rioting. He ordered the regular army out and slapped a curfew on Cairo. Three days later, a page 3 story in The New York Times said, "After a third day of fierce street clashes here, the Egyptian Government said today that it had put down a rebellion by paramilitary police."
Eleven days later, Mubarak addressed the Egyptian parliament. The New York Times covered it on page 18. The headline: "Egypt's Army Praised in Quelling Riots, but for Mubarak the Crisis Is Not Over." The story said the riots might have involved "as many as 17,000 conscript policemen" and that the Egyptians claimed 107 people had been killed.
One unnamed "Western expert" cited by the Times could hardly believe Mubarak had contained the violence. ''It's amazing to me that this thing did not spread,'' this expert told the Times. ''In a city of 15 million, living in the conditions these people do, it's absolutely amazing.''
A New York Times editorial of March 5, 1986, noted that Mubarak had angered hardliners. "He has been too pragmatic for Arab radicals, who view any recognition of Israel as a betrayal, and has affronted Muslem fundamentalists with his cautious moves to secular freedoms," said the Times.
Despite the friction over the Achille Lauro incident, the Reagan administration stood by Mubarak.
In the 25 years since then, Mubarak has remained an authoritarian and Egypt has not become a democracy. But it has remained at peace with Israel, and Mubarak's government has been as good a friend to the U.S. as any in the Arab world.
President Barack Obama last Friday took a harder stand for human rights in distant Egypt, as it verged on chaos, than he had with Communist Chinese President Hu Jintao, when Hu stood right next to him before a state dinner. Obama implicitly scolded Mubarak and called for "a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people."
What the American president should hope for in Egypt is what we have had for almost 30 years in Mubarak: a government that does not threaten our security or freedom and that is as friendly to us as can reasonably be expected.
Another Mubarak may be far better for the American people than an Egypt heading in an unpredictable revolutionary direction cloaked in the name of representative government.