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Michael Jansen: Embers of a revolution
March 13, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Six years after the 18-day uprising that drove him from power, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 88, has been acquitted over the deaths of 845 protesters at the hands of his security forces. After three trials and numerous appeals on this charge, Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the country’s highest, declared Mubarak innocent and rejected demands for a retrial or calls by lawyers of victims to revisit civil suits. The court also reaffirmed the acquittal of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and four of his aides.

In 2012 Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison, but this was dismissed in a 2014 retrial. In 2016, an appeals court upheld a three-year sentence for corruption for Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa, but all three have completed their period of incarceration and only Mubarak remained under detention due to the capital case. Charges arising from the 2011 uprising and of corruption levelled against Mubarak’s entourage have also been dismissed on appeal, freeing the chief figures in the 30-year Mubarak regime while he awaited acquittal in his luxurious rooms in the Maadi military hospital in Cairo.

The first and only former Arab leader to be brought before a court, Mubarak, did not get off, however, without punishment and humiliation, as was the case of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abdeine Ben Ali, the first to be toppled in the Arab Spring who took refuge along with his family and fortune in Saudi Arabia.

In April 2011, Mubarak and his sons were detained for 15 days of interrogation on the basis of allegations of corruption and misuse of power. He was ordered to stand trial for failing to halt the killings during the uprising. Mubarak’s trial opened on Aug.3, 2011. He and his sons appeared like common criminals, in a cage. On June 2, 2010, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, amounting to 20 years in Egypt. The retrials began in early 2013 and ended with his acquittal on March 2, a day of infamy as it negated the 2011 “revolution,” the name Egyptians gave to the uprising although the revolt never became a revolution.

Egyptians who protested Mubarak’s authoritarian rule and corruption are bound to feel betrayed by their country’s courts. There has been no justice for the nearly 900 who died and the 9,000 who were wounded during those 18 dramatic and exciting days of protest.

Without mass action across Egypt – not only in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square – the army would not have been prepared to bring down Mubarak who had been grooming for the succession his younger son Gamal, a businessman the army did not trust or want to see in the presidential palaces.

The army command assumed presidential powers after the departure of Mubarak and promised to rewrite the constitution and hold free and fair elections. Nevertheless, the people also wanted Mubarak and his entourage be prosecuted for violence against protesters during the uprising as well as misrule and corruption. This is why Mubarak, his sons, and their associates were put on trial and the proceedings were broadcast not only on Egyptian television but also by international satellite channels. Mubarak arriving at the court in the military complex outside Cairo, being wheeled into court on a gurney and in the dock was big news in Egypt and around the world. There was a feeling that he would be held accountable for his misdeeds. He was, but only for minor corruption.

Free to operate in political life after the uprising, the oft-banned and circumscribed Muslim Brotherhood backed the army in an attempt to become its partner in ruling Egypt. In a bid to show the “revolutionaries” the movement intended to play the democratic game by the rules, senior Brotherhood figures promised not to stand for more than one-third of the seats in parliament, field a candidate for president, or be involved in the drafting of a new constitution. The Brotherhood broke all three promises, took control – along with the Salafis – of Egypt’s first freely elected parliament, won the presidency, and wrote a constitution. President Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s man, won, and within months he declared himself above the law to ensure the constitution, drafted by a commission selected by the Brotherhood, would be approved in referendum. The Brotherhood used its position to appoint its own people to key positions in the vast Egyptian bureaucracy and in major semi-governmental organisations, alienating many Egyptians.

On June 30, 2013, Egyptians poured into the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and Luxor calling for the resignation of the president – Morsi, this time. The army obliged again and took power a second time. The Brotherhood and its radical fundamentalist allies, empowered by the uprising and coup against Mubarak, protested with marches, demonstrations and violence, prompting a harsh crackdown by the security forces and the military. Traumatised by chaos and terrified by insecurity, Egyptians elected army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi president in May 2014. He was expected to restore security and revive the faltering economy.

Although his regime has seriously curbed freedom of speech and political liberties and failed to work miracles with the economy, Sisi remains popular enough to see Mubarak freed from “detention” without a peep of protest. Mubarak’s misrule and the glorious dream of a “revolution” have been overtaken by the continuing battle against the Brotherhood, Daesh, and al-Qaeda as well as the campaign against “revolutionaries” who dare to dissent from the government line. The “revolution,” which galvanised Egyptians across their country and millions round the world via satellite television is dead and buried but not completely forgotten.


The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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