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The End of an Era in Egypt: Mubarak On Trial!

August 3, 2011

“I never thought, even in my wildest dreams, to see the scenes I am watching now…” one of my former colleagues posted to Facebook.

She was referring, of course, to the trial of Hosni Mubarak on charges of conspiring to kill the protesters (which carries a sentence of 15 years in prison or the death penalty), and abusing power to amass wealth (which carries a sentence of 5-15 years).

Reuters describes Egyptians as “transfixed” and AP as “stunned” by the turn of events. For many, it is potentially the apex of the revolution–if the trial appears fair and the verdict just. Widespread fears that the military would use the dictator’s claims of poor health as an excuse to avoid the public humiliation of a trial helped spur the last three weeks of protests.

As “We Are All Khaled Said” posted,

Mubarak was grooming his son to take over in the planned presidential elections this September. If it hasn’t been to the revolution, we would have been all watching Gamal Mubarak being sworn as Egypt’s next president now instead of being tried for killing protesters & stealing Egyptians hard earned money.

In 2005, Dr. Ayman Nour decided to stand presidential elections against Mubarak. Mubarak got the usual 99% of votes & Ayman Nour was jailed one month later for some made up accusations. Today Mubarak is in his place while Ayman Nour is standing up for presidential elections. Justice tastes nice!

Hosni Mubarak has, of course, pleaded not guilty. Here is footage of the plea:

Photos of Mubarak behind bars are being posted by everybody. People on trial in Egypt sit within a metal cage. I remember the front page of Egypt Today with a picture of my colleague Saad Ibrahim in the cage when he was tried for harming Egypt’s reputation abroad (I thought we should use it for recruiting at the American University in Cairo, with the slogan, “Your future in Sociology” but I was voted down for some reason)

The judge decided to split the case against Mubarak and his sons from the case of his interior minister, postponing Mubarak’s case until 15 August. However Mubarak will not be transferred back to Sharm El Sheikh, but will be kept in the International Medical Centre outside Cairo on the Cairo-Ismailia High Way.

But there are concerns as well as celebration. Mubarak is old, he is a veteran, and he claims to be in ill health. These are all conditions that excite compassion, especially in those who believe Mubarak was a good president (it’s not clear how many of these there are, but there are enough to come and throw stones at anti-Mubarak protesters).

And while several military spokesmen have pointed to the trial as proof that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is responsive to the will of the people, others are concerned that the military’s reluctance to prosecute its one of its own — Mubarak is a veteran of the Air Force — will lead to an unfair trial. One former student shared with me footage of the Mubarak sone leaving the courtroom smiling and shaking hands with the military.

I do not, myself, read that much into this. There’s footage of John Dillinger laughing and shaking hands with cops during his trial and he got the chair. But it is interesting how carefully every bit of public social action is being scrutinized for evidence of which way the trial might go.

An editorial in Britain’s Independent warns:

we must not be dazzled by the drama and the symbolism of this opening day, for it will be the manner in which the whole trial unfolds that will prove the real barometer of the new Egypt.

In one sense, this is absolutely true. Yet in another sense, the outcome does not matter. The symbolism of one of the most powerful men in the Middle East, head of an autocratic regime, hauled into court to answer charges brought by the people he ruled, is a piece of political symbolism with long-lasting implications.

Read Independent columnist Robert Fisk’s take on the meaning of the trials here.

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