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Hichem Karoui: President to prisoner
June 03, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The post-revolution trial of the former head of the Egyptian state is not supposed to be the opportunity to seek revenge and proclaim the right to vendetta live on TV. It is really painful and sad to see people giving way to such violent emotions and asking for blood, besides the fact it is against the very spirit of the revolution. Why did the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria revolt? Was it not because they sought justice, honesty, and the rule of law, which would guarantee them respect, freedom and dignity? Well, this has nothing to do with revenge.

The free expression of one’s emotions is understandable, but the respect of the law must prevail. It does not serve the goals of democracy and justice to start this new era by spilling the blood of the former president and his men, even if their responsibility for the repression is fully established.

Think of what happened during the great French  revolution of 1789. Gustave Le Bon, one of the best writers on the psychology of crowds, said: “The motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a true manifestation of hope and faith at the beginning of the revolution, soon merely served to cover a legal justification of the sentiments of jealousy, cupidity, and hatred (…), the true motives of crowds unrestrained by discipline. This is why the Revolution so soon ended in disorder, violence, and anarchy.”

Clearly, the danger that threatens all Arab revolutions is the same that has been thus diagnosed: it is when the rational ceases to dominate the instinctive, and the effort of the instinctive to overpower the rational becomes successful.

A society cannot exist without restraining some instincts men have inherited from their “primitive animality.” It is important to overcome these instincts which can bring overall destruction on the society. The need for the democratic elite here to show the crowd, prisoner of its passions, a sense of discipline, respect and abidance by the law, is patent.

There is no other way to cement the national unity than to convince people that one of the goals of the revolution has been reached by the mere fact of presenting Mubarak and his men before a law-court. What else could be considered as the expression of the people’s will? A life sentence, in my eyes, is much more terrible than death. No other sentence could be heavier.

While acknowledging the president’s responsibility, it is all the same obvious that the system was faulty, not just a man or a dozen. How to judge a system? Revolutions reform systems or replace them. The men are just tools in a broader machine. Egypt has been subject to the autocratic rule of Mubarak and the National Democratic Party (NDP) since he took office in 1981, following the assassination of Anwar Al Sadat.

The historian Kai Bird, said describing Mubarak at the moment he accessed power: “He was then a non-entity.” Other observers said about him: “Cautious and unimaginative, the former air force commander has never in his (…) reign come close to filling the shoes of his predecessors.”

It soon became apparent that he was simply an apparatchik of the Egyptian military establishment. He never attempted to create for himself the kind of popular legitimacy that came naturally to Nasser. His one talent was that of a “Machiavellian survivor,” as Kai Bird put it. He marshalled all the usual tools of repression – and more than $60 billion of American aid stemming from the Camp David Accords – to sustain his power.

This man (i.e. Mubarak) was not only responsible for what happened; the real responsibility, as I said lies with the system. But as in all revolutions, the head of state becomes the object of hatred and anger, mostly because power is always personalised. We must remember that Mubarak was really facing the fate of Nouri Al Said (of Iraq), torn to pieces by a maddened crowd.

On February 11, Egypt was on the brink of an abyss. Thousands of demonstrators besieged Mubarak in his presidential palace, heavily guarded by army tanks. “The potential for a small group of impatient protesters to sooner or later try to force its way through the gates and trigger a sudden downward spiral into bloodshed and chaos was all too real,” remarked an observer of the events.

That was the moment the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces chose to step in to save the country at the climax of 18 very long and difficult days.

 A policy briefing of the Council of Europe then described the situation is these terms: “in Egypt (…) the military is in the driving seat and has assumed responsibility for steering the country’s transition to democracy. Just as pre-revolutionary Egypt was described by scholars as a ‘hybrid regime’ that had elections but no democracy, its revolution has also taken on a hybrid form.

“The revolution was neither fully democratic, as in Tunisia or Indonesia, nor was it entirely authoritarian as in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

It was fundamentally democratic in impulse — the protests and an early referendum on amending the constitution have clearly been expressions of the people’s will — but it has also been characterised by a number of authoritarian features, not least the role of the military, with its summary and often brutal way of dealing with continuing dissent.”

Thus, if you want to be fair, many other people were responsible for the death of protesters. However, the trial of Mubarak offered them the opportunity to stay in the shade.

For when — a neutral investigation about the killings, then? The question is still there.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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