UPDATE: I was quite baffled when I read that Mubarak actually won the 2005 presidential elections. Given his unpopularity now, it is quite surprising that he won 80% of the 2005 election votes. Here is how he did it[extracted from Wikipedia]:
Under the election law, parties proposed candidates for the election, which were reviewed by the Presidential Election Commission. Of the 30 proposed candidates, only 10 were allowed to participate in the presidential election by the Presidential Election Commission. One prominent candidate not allowed to run was Talaat Sadat, the nephew of former President Anwar Sadat, who appealed his disqualification unsuccessfully.
According to a late August report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, media coverage was biased in favour of Hosni Mubarak
there appeared to be official harassment of the leading opposition candidate Nour, who was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and arrested on January 2005, on what many observers regarded as trumped-up charges.
There were also accusations of vote rigging. Harassing and arresting political opponents to send them to jail, control of the media, and using various means to exclude strong candidates from running gave Hosni Mubarak 80% of the vote and a false sense of confidence. His support base was actually crumbling fast and he didn't even know.
After 30 years in power, Mubarak is not without supporters. Here is a report on a small pro-Mubarak rally : Link.
Here is a shouting match between Mubarak supporters and an anti-Mubarak crowd. The remarks below sums up why people still support Mubarak:
"Really," screamed a woman in a burgundy abaya and black hijab. "God damn you all, you stupid people. We'll all starve in less than a week if Mubarak goes. He is stable; we will be at each other's throats if he leaves." [Link]
Why Mubarak is opposed is summed up is the following paragraph:
"The government's self-declared crowning legacy has been its economic achievements: rising GDP and a surging private sector led by a construction boom and vibrant, seemingly recession-proof banks.
But many say the fruits of growth in this formerly socialist economy have been funneled almost entirely to a politically connected elite, leaving average Egyptians surrounded by unattainable symbols of wealth such as luxury housing and high-priced electronics as they struggle to find jobs, pay daily bills and find affordable housing." - Full Article :here.
and this one:
The widening chasm between rich and poor in Cairo has been one of the conspicuous aspects of city life over the last decade — and especially the last five years. Though there were always extremes of wealth and poverty here, until recently the rich lived more or less among the poor — in grander apartments or more spacious apartments but mixed together in the same city.
- CNBC Protests in Egypt Expose Rift Between Rich and Poor [Link]
Reading this report, I gathered that Egypt's income gap has to be horrendous given than many observers feel that it is one of the main causes of the protests in Egypt.
Checking the Wikipedia on Income Gap[Link]:
Singapore RP 10%=17.7, RP 20%=9.7, Gini=42.5 (year 2008)
Egypt RP 10%=8, RP 20% = 5.1, Gini =34.4 (year 2000)
RP 10% is the ratio of the average income of the richest 10% is to the poorest 10%.
Although the data for Egypt is older, it shows that our recent figures for income inequality is far higher than Egypt's in 2000. The problem with Egypt is the median income level is much lower and those who are poor probably difficulty fill stomachs, the high unemployment levels drove many to desperation and recent rise in food prices was the last straw for the Egyptians[Read The Hidden Roots of Dispair].
Egypt may not be better off after Mubarak goes - there is a real fear the country may fall into the hands of more radical elements and destabilise the whole middle east but people whose hopes for the future are dashed and stomachs are empty have little to risk and will opt to reshuffle the deck through regime change.
Lets not forget Egypt 6 months ago was peaceful on the surface with little signs that protest of this scale would erupt. It is believed that the toppling of the dictator in Tunesia ignited the protests and only recently the deep unhappiness with Mubarak became clear and visible. Mubarak's first reaction was to shut down the Internet and mobile networks because modern communications is probably how people in Egypt come to the know to understand the real situation in the country.
Unless Mubarak opts to hang on to power by violent means, he has to go because the majority of people wants him out. He hung on to power for decades by controlling the media, repressing opponents and conducting unfair elections with rules heavily stacked against opponents. These methods commonly used by dictators can only repress the unhappiness among the people for so long. Although Mubarak did not try displace his own people economically by importing foreigners in large numbers, his propaganda machine is probably not as efficient as those in some other country and with a population size of 82 million, Mubarak has a far more difficult task keeping the country under control.