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Anger and Disappointment Over Mubarak Sentencing

June 3, 2012

The sentencing of Hosni Mubarak has produced anger, not celebration in Cairo. Although convicted to life imprisonment for not trying to stop the killing of protesters, the president was acquitted of corruption charges and is expected to be acquitted of the other charges on appeal.

At the conference on the Egyptian revolution I attended last month at Oxford University, Mustapha Kemal as-Sayyid argued that one of the four necessary operations that must be met during Egypt’s transitional phase is that of “ensuring traditional justice.” In Egypt, he said, it is the court that has taken on this projects, and the question as to whether or not it is working would be decided by the sentencing decision on Hosni Mubarak June 3.

The anger and disappointment in Egypt over the sentence make it very clear that for most of those engaged in the Egyptian revolution, the court has failed miserably.

The court sentenced Mubarak and Habib El Adly, the former interior minister, for complicity in the deaths of more than 850 protesters killed during the uprisings, but acquitted the six security officials also charged in the killings. The court also left the door wide open for an appeal, which most Egyptians assume will end in an acquittal for Mubarak as well.

To add insult to injury (from a revolutionist’s viewpoint), the court acquitted Mubarak and his sons of corruption, citing lack of evidence–in spite of the fact that the Mubarak and his family have clearly enriched themselves through the use of their positions in ways neither of his predecessors ever did.

Way back when I first began to talk about the revolution, I outlined six possible outcomes, one of the most likely of which was a silent coup, that is, a situation in which the dictator falls but the regime remains intact.

This court case gives a green light to business as usual, the way the regime ran things in the past. If Ahmed Shafiq wins the election, the regime will essentially emerge triumphant after more than a year of revolution, protest and sacrifice. One can understand the frustration that has once again sent thousands into the streets.

The regime will not be completely the same, of course. Things have changed. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and the new secular parties have replaced the old token parties that served as a loyal opposition. Many of the new independent news media are more independent than in the past. The emergency laws have been lifted. The expectation of free elections is in the air. Several of the powers of the president have been stricken from the constitution.

And things could still happen that would restore faith in the courts. The Public Prosecutor filed a protest against the verdicts and barred the acquitted officers from traveling. The Illicit Gains Authority announced it will send Mubarak and his family back to criminal court as soon as it receives reports from the Justice Ministry on the origins and extent of the family’s wealth.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest of the verdict. In the Suez, protesters demanded the immediate handover of power from the military council to a presidential council comprised of four of the candidates. In Tahrir Square, an on-going sit-in was organized but no demands issued as yet. For the first time since Mubarak’s resignation we seem to be seeing unified engagement by the same cross-section of population we saw then. Whether this can be maintained, and whether it will prove effective, is yet another “experimental moment” in Egypt’s ongoing process of change.

Nonetheless, the basic infrastructure of the regime remains largely intact, and many of the changes accomplished could be reversed, in substance if not officially. The possibility of meaningful democratic reform emerging from the revolution seems to be dwindling fast.

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