Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak instructed the security forces under his command not to open fire on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer — a close friend of the ousted Egyptian leader — said Saturday in an interview with Army Radio.

“I know that he gave orders not to open fire,” Ben-Eliezer said, adding that Mubarak did not necessarily know what exactly was ensuing in the streets at the time of the revolution that brought him down last year.

Earlier on Saturday, Mubarak was convicted by an Egyptian court on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising that forced him from power. As the 84-year-old was being transferred by helicopter to Cairo’s Tora Prison, he suffered what was said to be a heart attack. Meanwhile, crowds began to gather in the streets of Cairo, protesting the “light” verdict which was criticized by the country’s Muslim Brotherhood leaders — leading contenders for the Egyptian presidency.

“The verdict brought me deep sorrow, because I admire that man … he is an irreplaceable leader … the last of his kind,” said Ben-Eliezer in the interview. “It hurts. I know him, his house, his family. It’s someone who’s close to you, someone you know, and suddenly you see this giant who was once the king of the Middle East — actually, the undisputed leader of the Middle East — sitting in a cave like some injured animal, helpless but still keeping his dignity intact.”

Image capture from Egyptian state television of Judge Ahmed Rifaat handing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's life sentence.

Image capture from Egyptian state television of Judge Ahmed Rifaat handing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's life sentence.

Ben-Eliezer said that prior to Saturday’s verdict, Mubarak had received the best of medical care, so it was not surprising that his condition deteriorated so soon after leaving for the Egyptian capital’s Tora Prison. “I believe he suffered a heart attack,” he said. “I wish him all the best.”

In the past, he said, Mubarak had not only proved himself as a nationalist Egyptian patriot and war hero, leading the Egyptian nation toward progress, but had also brought stability to the war-torn Middle East. “He was the main reason for the stability of the Middle East, and there was none other like him. He held the Middle East together.”

When Mubarak was ousted, an era came to an end — an era not of democracy, Ben-Eliezer allowed, but of great leadership. “With all their good intentions — and they do have good intentions — the Americans want to bring democracy. But we have entered a different era, an era of Islamization … full of hatred of Israel … When I hear the leading candidate for the Egyptian presidency state that once he is chosen, he will change the Egyptian constitution into Islamic law, it doesn’t make me feel too good.”

Image capture from Egyptian state television of former president Hosni Mubarak after being sentenced to life in prison.

Image capture from Egyptian state television of former president Hosni Mubarak after being sentenced to life in prison.

Though the White House meant well, according to Ben-Eliezer, it too has now begun to question its policy of democratization in the Middle East. “I quote people in the US administration who also call it a mistake. The Arab leadership has to think twice before it heeds the calls coming from Washington,” he said, adding that while Islamization was dangerous for Israel, it could not be ignored. Jerusalem, he said, would have to hold dialogue with Islamist factions in the Middle East. “That’s all we have. It’s not easy, but we have to get used to it,” concluded Ben-Eliezer.

Referring to the reasons for his friend Mubarak’s downfall, Ben-Eliezer opined that the former leader had made two major mistakes — the first being misreading the socio-economic reality of his country, and the second being appointing his son Gemal as his successor.

“He didn’t see the socio-political reality as it was, the distress of 85 million people, one-third of whom earned barely a euro and a half per day. It’s difficult, complicated, complex,” he said. And when Mubarak appointed his son as successor, “the public didn’t accept it, I’m not even sure the military accepted it. Things went downhill from there.”

As the interview progressed, Ben-Eliezer revealed that when Mubarak had fled to Sharm al-Sheikh, he himself had suggested that the former president make his way to Eilat for medical treatment. “He’s a very sick man” — 84, and ill with pancreatic cancer, Ben-Eliezer said. “Mubarak responded immediately (to the offer), saying ‘I was born here, this is my home and this is where I will die.’”

Commenting on the Tahrir Square protests which spread like wildfire and led to the ouster of the man who had stood at Egypt’s helm for 30 years, Ben-Eliezer said that those who had instigated and led the protests unfortunately had no place in Egypt’s new political reality. “Perhaps people thought that those guys in jeans who had led the revolution would rule, but look what happened: where are those guys in jeans? Where are those who had led Tahrir Square? They’re on the sidelines. The Islamists are the ones sitting in the parliament.”