Mubarak, Still A Factor In Egyptian Politics
The life sentence handed down to the former Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, may be a factor to determine the next president of the country. Chief Judge Ahmed Rifaa, had two weeks ago, sentenced Mubarak and former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, to life imprisonment and acquitted six policemen who were accused of killing protesters during last year’s protest that eventually led to Mubarak ouster from office. Two sons of former Egyptian president, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak charged with corruption were discharged by the court. Former heir apparent, Gamal and wealthy businessman, Alaa, are still awaiting trial on charges of insider trading.
But thousands of protesters that gathered at Tahrir Square had expected death sentence for the 84-year old ex-dictator for the death of over 1000 protesters during last year’s government crackdown on the uprisings that led to the ouster of the former president.
The court verdict has added a new twist to election campaign ahead of re-run poll between the two frontrunners, Mr. Mohammed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party and Mr. Ahmed Shafiq of Al-Wasat Party. Both candidates represent different Egyptian voting blocs: Muslim Brotherhood, non–Muslim Brotherhood Islamists (mostly Salafis), old-regime backers and independents.
During the first round of voting, Morsi secured the Muslim Brotherhood’s votes, while Shafiq is seen as the great hope of old-regime backers because he had been very vocal about his opposition to the revolution. Shafiq’s alliance with the old brigade is not all minus for him as he is viewed as a candidate that can restore the Mubarak era described as the good old days when Egyptians enjoyed better living compared with what is obtainable in post revolution Egypt. On this ground, he is likely going to get the votes of electorate who are increasingly becoming fed-up with the turmoil in the country since Mubarak’s forced exit from power in January, 2011.
Hardline revolutionaries are angry that key Mubarak regime men, who are culpable in the killing of protesters despite videos scenes of their involvement, were simply acquitted.
The outcome of the Cairo Court ruling is now a major political matter as Egyptians prepare for another round of election. For instance, those opposed to the court’s verdict are said to be preparing their vote for the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party candidate, Mohammed Morsi, who has publicly opposed the outcome of Mubarak’s trial and had promised that if he elected, he would reopen the trial. Some Egyptians, however, see the Brotherhood and their candidate Morsi as remnants of the regime. Such colouration of Morsi as well as the Justice and Freedom Party, according to many, underscores a climate of uncertainty in the country.
The Brotherhood, which led the opposition to Hosni Mubarak during his 30 years reign, was until this year officially banned. But their activities were in practice, tolerated as long as it remained at the margins of politics. Already, the group has a majority of 235 seats representing 47.2 percent in parliament, from the three phase parliamentary election conducted between November 2011 and January this year. Nour Party came second with 121 seats representing 24.3 percent. Surprisingly, Shafiq’s New Wafd Party got 38 seats representing 7.6 percent.
Analysts are of the view that Morsi’s declaration may persuade a number of liberal protesters to pitch tent with the Muslim Brotherhood despite the fact they remain highly suspicious of the Islamic group. Besides, since the ouster of Mubarak following the 18 days of revolt in February last year, no principles of political pluralism and accountability have taken strong root in Egypt. The group’s stance on the court ruling will be a decisive factor, especially judging from the widespread belief that many elements in the Egyptian public regard Ahmed Shafiq of Al- Wasat Party as an appendage of Mubarak’s regime.
According to Michael Hanna, an Egyptian-American analyst at the Century Foundation, the trial seemingly throws the Egyptian people a bone with Mubarak’s conviction but it really pokes them in the eyes. Mubarak and al-Adly’s convictions are based on their failure to stop the killing once it started. That leaves a logical hole in the verdict: was no one responsible for the ordering of the killings?
Hanna says the trial symbolised Egypt’s faltering army-led transition and was woefully compromised from the start. Prosecuting lawyers have said that many questionable procedural decisions during the year long trial had left ample grounds to continue the legal fight.
“No one is being held accountable, and so the Ministry of Interior and the whole security apparatus is left unscathed and can go back to sleep in their same beds every night,” Hanna says. “It’s business as usual.”
The verdict was delivered at a time when Egyptians are preparing to vote in the presidential runoff slated for June 16-17, voters have to choose between Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood; a block seen as traditional opponent to Mubarak’s regime and Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under the deposed former strong man, viewed as an appendage of the old regime.
Meanwhile, Shafiq, who is running on a promise to restore security is getting political support within the ranks of many, who are appalled by 15 months of a security vacuum and economic turmoil.
Many believe that Shifiq’s sympathy for the old order could bolster support for him, an undeniable symbol of the Mubarak era, who proudly lauds the former president as one of his role models. Or it could hurt his credibility, with Mubarak’s repressive security apparatus being seen as let off the hook.
However, some Egyptians are rallying round the former prime minister with the believe that if elected, Mubarak’s conviction may be a warning to him as such he will not follow the footsteps of his former boss. Also, many are of the view that it will be difficult to elect an ally of a man who is now serving a life sentence.
During the trial, television footage of a bedridden Mubarak looking stone-faced and frowning in the courtroom’s metal cage while Judge Rifaat read out the conviction and sentence against him, showing no emotion with his eyes behind dark sunglasses was beamed across the world. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, looked nervous but also did not react to either the conviction of their father or their own acquittals.
Analysts are arguing that investigations into the case were flawed and highly politicised, noting that it was conducted under the military rule of a council of generals, who took power after Mubarak’s removal from power. Instead of carrying out an holistic examination of the systemic abuses under Mubarak’s dictatorship, the prosecutors rushed the case to trial last April in an apparent attempt to pacify massive street protesters.
“The same people, who have killed and tortured Egyptians, are now free to go back to their jobs,” says prominent activist, Dalia Ziada, who is angry over the verdicts, adding that “They’re manipulating us with an illusion that we are winning, but in fact, they’re undermining all our efforts. Our 18-day revolution has been killed in 15 months.”
Many pundits have dubbed the trial as a show of political pressure from aggrieved Egyptians, who are seeking revenge for Hosni Mubarak’s crimes. But under the current circumstance, justice was never possible. Hence, calls in some quarters for a truth and reconciliation commission to pacify frayed nerves in the country.
In the meantime, voices from epicenter of the revolution, the Tahrir Square, in the Egyptian Capital, Cairo, have changed from calls for democracy to justice.