Mubarak’s day in court and what this means for Egypt
Author’s Note: This article was written after the charges were leveled at 11:58 Egyptian time
Today, on the third day of Ramadan, Hosni Mubarak gave Egyptian spectators something they’re not unaccustomed to: an overly dramatic entrance. Carried in on a stretcher, the evidently ill former President was only one actor in one of the most significant, historic, and semi-comical spectacles in modern Egyptian history. Organized quickly and without much scrutiny and awareness, the trial featured a contestation between the victims of the regime’s brutality during the Tahrir protests and the members of the regime itself. Amongst the men on trial included Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, and Habib Adly, the former Interior Minister.
As one Al Jazeera reporter noted, many of the Egyptians were in disbelief that this day would ever come. This disbelief was compounded by the fact that the Military government, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), actually delivered the trial. Indeed, Mohammed Tantawi, the chariman of SCAF, has seen his popularity rise to the most beloved of Egyptian leaders after the revolution to one of the most despised and mistrusted a few months later. That this demand—which protestors demanded week after week in Tahrir after Friday prayers—was met by the SCAF is a threatening precedent for every other Arab dictator and an emboldening foundation for all Arab activists.
Yet the trial had all the characteristics of a country struggling with its growing pains; as one observer noted: the Egyptian courts needed a revolution of their own. The judge rarely had control of the courtroom, lawyers were screaming, outrageous accusations were being leveled, unrealistic claims were made, and then Mubarak picked his nose. One of the victims’ lawyers even proposed designing a plan for all the victims and claimants to appear in court, one by one, and receive representation and file their grievances. At one point another lawyer for the victims tediously read aloud a list of names for a handful of minutes before the judge begged him for a written memo and adjourned the court.
For many more, the criticisms didn’t just stop with the judge. The timing, the process, the prospect of a fair trial; all of these were called into question. In fact, the only thing that outnumbered the criticisms of the trial were the defendants of Mubarak and Co. This is perhaps a lasting remnant of the long arm of power of the Mubarak regime, and at one point the lawyer for Habib Adly, the former Interior Minister, asked for the separation of his client’s trial with Mubarak’s. This is a smart move for avoiding the confusion and fanfare, but is unlikely to actualize the goal Adly’s lawyer wants. Clearly the aim is try to spare Adly from the intense amount of public discretion and animosity towards Mubarak; yet as former Interior minister, and thus leader of the despised security forces, Adly’s popularity is likely to be as low as Nasser’s pulse.
Outside the trial clashes broke out between pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters. And as a break was called and Mubarak and Co were whisked out of the court room stones were thrown at the riot police outside the court house. When the trial resumed, the victims’ lawyers demanded 50,000 Egyptian pounds for every Egyptian killed during the revolution and 10,000 for every Egyptian injured. The lawyers then leveled charges against Mubarak and the accused. Hosni, Gamal and Alaa all pleaded not guilty.
The trial is a historical day for the new Egypt. This trial is likely to be the test and the standard to which all other Arab despots are to be held, and a pillar to which the new Egyptian government is formed. The process is not likely to be finished with any amount of celerity, especially given the Mubarak’s adamant professions of innocence; yet the outcome is almost irrelevant at this point, the point is that a man who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 30 years, who had his face plastered on billboards and stickers, who commanded a ruthless military rule during 5 US presidencies, that this man was brought into a steel cage on a stretcher, forced to face the law of the common Egyptian.
One thing is for certain, if Qadhafi/Assad/Saleh were watching: the room just got a lot hotter.
Grant Rumley is a Consultant in the Washington DC area. You can reach him on Twitter at @gm_rumley.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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