An Egyptian court has ruled that ex-president Hosni Mubarak should no longer be held in custody over the killing of protestors during the 2011 Revolution . He will, however, remain in custody as he faces separate corruption charges. His recent court session gave rise to divergent views among Egyptians
In Egypt, it has been termed the “trial of the century”. The country’s former president Hosni Mubarak, his interior minister Habib al-Adly, and several of his aides have been charged with conspiring to kill the protestors—some 850 of them were killed—during the 18-day uprising which ended when Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011. Additionally, he has been charged, together with his sons Alaa, a business tycoon, and Gamal who was a politician, of corruption charges.
The Mubaraks were all acquitted of the corruption charges, but other corruption and profiteering cases against them are currently being seen in court, but the former president was last June handed a life prison sentence for killing the protestors. The Court of Cassation—the highest court in Egypt—however, last January ordered a retrial basing on procedural failings. It is expected, basing on the evidence available, that Mubarak’s sentence might be reduced, or he might be acquitted; but it is highly unlikely that he would be handed a death sentence.
The first session of the retrial was held on Saturday 13 April. And, for both the opponents and the supporters of the former president, it was—to put it mildly—stunning.
For one thing, Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah recused himself from seeing the case on grounds of ‘unease’, and referred the case to the Court of Appeals to assign it to a new circuit. He did not, however, cite reasons for the unease or any conflict of interest. Judge Abdullah was last year criticised by lawyers and activists for acquitting 21 Mubarak officials accused of organising the infamous “Camel Battle” during the uprising, in which attackers on horses and camels stormed Tahrir Square.
Immediately following the judge’s decision to recuse himself from the retrial, some Mubarak haters began chanting, demanding the “execution of the ousted president”. Meanwhile Mubarak was whisked to a helicopter which flew him back to a military hospital in Cairo.
But most stunning of all was the former president himself. Wearing fashion brown-tinted sunglasses, and with an intravenous cannula on his hand, the 84-year-Mubarak appeared younger and more upbeat than ever. Rather than the ailing figure on a stretcher in defendants’ iron bar and wire mesh cage last year, he sat on a hospital gurney in the same cage and waved to people in the courtroom while leaning on his chin in a relaxed and confident manner.
His sons, Alaa and Gamal, smiled and chatted casually with their father as scores of lawyers and journalists craned their necks for a view of the former ruling family. It was all the more striking because Mubarak has been reported at times in the past two years to be on the verge of death and, at one point in June last year, in a coma.
Nostalgia for Mubarak times
“Mubarak’s smiling, confident expression is a very good symbol of how much has changed in the last two years since the case began,” said Magda Boutros, the criminal justice reform director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “His supporters today probably give him much more of a sense that he was right from the start to warn that it was either him or chaos, which is more or less what we are seeing now.”
Under the current Islamist President Mursi, Egypt has been plagued by a breakdown in security, unrest, deadly clashes between protestors and police, a revolt in the canal cities, horrendous attacks against the Coptic minority, and a devastating economic crisis that involves painful unemployment and food and fuel shortages, in what many fear is taking Egypt to the brink. Is it any surprise that many Egyptians today openly express their nostalgia for Mubarak’s era, with some taxi drivers even putting up his photograph with the caption, “Sorry, Mr President.”
Ahmed Okasha, head of the Egyptian Society for Psychology, says that some 80 per cent of ordinary Egyptians are nostalgic about the Mubarak era. “Those Egyptians do not care about democracy, they care rather about security because its absence negatively affects every detail in their daily life,” Dr Okasha said. “Without security we are headed towards ‘collective depression’.”
Said Abdel-Azim, also a psychologist, agrees. He also believes that Mubarak showed confidence in court—unlike the first trial—because he feels that he was not an unsuccessful ruler, and that people now acknowledge his achievements and are prepared to forgive him his mistakes.
Khaled Ali, a previous candidate for the presidential race, believes that if, after this period of Mursi’s government, Mubarak were released and nominated for president again he would score a landslide win.
Nabil Naim, a leader of the Jihad organisation, agrees with Mr Ali, especially in light of the grave mistakes made by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which today holds power: the Constitution that has effectively divided Egypt; the piles of garbage; the high cost of living and unfulfilled promises for a better life. These have motivated Egyptians to regret the end of Mubarak’s era just as the Iraqi people look back wistfully to the days of Saddam Hussein.
This outlook, together with the public outpouring of support for Mubarak and his elation at it, has provoked outrage on the part of the MB. A session of the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament which has a sweeping Islamist majority—was devoted to criticise the ‘leniency’ with which Mubarak was treated, meaning allowing him to remain in hospital for treatment, and attributed to this leniency his good looks and high spirit.
A leading figure of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Beltagui, says Mubarak is now regarded as a previous president, not an ousted president against whom thousands rose in revolt and lost their lives. That he is in hospital, Beltagui believes, is a crime against the revolution; he should be returned to prison.
The prestige and dignity
Mubarak’s confident smile raised different comments on Facebook and Twitter. Addressing Mubarak, Bassma Nasser wrote: “You still have the prestige and dignity of a president; you deserve it. We still remember what you did for this country which, under your rule, never descended into chaos or loose security. That is why we say, ‘Sorry, Mr President’.”
Media figure Mona al-Shazly wrote on her page: “Dear brothers, be fair to Mubarak; stop falsifying reality and twisting the facts. Leave judgment to history which alone will reveal the truth.
“Unify and confront all the perils Mubarak warned against, and protect Egypt from those who trade in bloodshed and religion. We are now facing a danger that threatens the entire nation; one that Mubarak warned of but no one listened. Never imagine that you can oust the MB within 18 days as you did with Mubarak; it was a unique case of a president who felt responsibility towards his country and his people.”
Wave or challenge
Some bloggers deny that when Mubarak was wheeled into the court he was waving his hands to his supporters. They believe he was challenging the people. Injy Hamdy wrote on Twitter: “Mubarak…Tantawi…Mursi…be sure that one day we will take our right and revenge; no matter how long the years.”
Another blogger, Ahmed al-Gazzar, tweeted sarcastically: “I think that after such a dazzling performance by the MB, even if Hitler himself came back he would regain his popularity.”
On the website of the independent Cairo daily ++Al-Masry al-Youm++, opinion was divided: 60 per cent support Mubarak’s release and long for his days, while 40 per cent criticise the media and judiciary, believing that Mursi and the Islamic project should be implemented. This is a far cry form the days of the first trial more than a year ago when no more than 10 per cent dared to support Mubarak.
On Facebook, one person summed it all up when he wrote: “If some people describe Mubarak’s days as corrupt, I miss those good old days of corruption over the past 30 years, during which we did not hear about attacks against al-Azhar or the Cathedral; we did not hear about violating the sanctity of the dead during their funerals; Egypt did not beg, and was not poor. No 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed on the border during the holy month of Ramadan; we had a respectable judiciary; we had tourism, industry and agriculture. We had a country named Egypt; today, a few months into the Islamist rule, we have lost a country named Egypt.”
21 April 2013