Jun 2, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from Time: In a run-down maze of slums with electrical wires and laundry tangled across Cairo’s mustard sky, Umm Mohammed, 55, put her hands to her face and fell silently to her knees when she heard the news. An Egyptian court sentenced ex-President Hosni Mubarak to life in prison for his complicity in the killing of about 850 protesters during last year’s uprising. Once the equivalent of a modern-day pharaoh, the 84-year-old Mubarak is the first Arab ruler to be brought to court by his own people.
“He’s done! He’s done!” Her neighbors applauded from a sparsely stocked fruit stand, hunched around a small television set. They watched as a visibly thinner Mubarak, donning sunglasses with his arms crossed defiantly, heard the verdict from a gurney in the defendants cage.
But Umm Mohammed stood still, emotionless. Her son, Mohammed Fareed, 23, was one of many protestors who died from gunshots near Tahrir Square. “I feel like I lost both my son and my country. So Mubarak stays in a nice jail? Now what? My son is dead and the revolution has turned my country into a mess. I just want to move on. God protect us.”
And her sobriety spread as the cheers and exaltation in Cairo over the verdict were quickly dampened. Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, who had tears in their eyes, were acquitted on charges of corruption. Mubarak’s former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly also received a life sentence for the deaths of demonstrators but the charges against other Interior Ministry officials were dismissed. (The Mubarak sons were not freed: they were kept in custody to face trial on other charges of corruption.) Judge Ahmed Refaat insisted the 10-month trial had been a fair one, and before issuing the verdict, rhapsodized about the brave uprising that ousted Mubarak. He called Mubarak’s rule “30 years of intense darkness…the blackness of a chilly winter night.”
But critics have argued that the investigation had been flawed and highly politicized. It occurred under the military rule of a council of generals who took power at Mubarak’s ouster. What’s more, instead of a sweeping examination of the systemic abuses under his rule, the prosecutors rushed the case to trial last April in an apparent attempt to placate 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 incensed over the verdicts and let it be known over Twitter.
“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.”
Michael Hanna, an Egyptian-American analyst at the Century Foundation, says that 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 is responsible for the ordering of killing? Hanna says the trial symbolized Egypt’s faltering army-led transition and was woefully compromised from the start. The verdict is almost certain to be appealed on both sides, he says, and lawyers involved have said that many questionable procedural decisions during the yearlong 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.”
Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the trial was just a show — a function of political pressure from Egyptians who wanted revenge for Hosni Mubarak’s crimes. “Justice was never possible under Egypt’s present circumstances. Now people need to live with the consequences,” he says. “A truth and reconciliation commission would have been a better way to go.”
The verdict comes at a crucial time, smack-dab between two rounds of Egypt’s first truly contested presidential elections. In the runoff vote for the presidency on June 16-17, Egyptians must choose between two of the most historically powerful and divisive forces in Egyptian society: Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Mubarak, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that struggled for decades against a state that unabashedly repressed it.