With all eyes on the highly contentious Egyptian elections over the past several weeks, last week’s verdict in the trial of ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, and Habib al-Adly, Mubarak’s former Interior Minister, seemed to come almost out of the blue. The verdict against Mubarak and Adly: guilty[i]. The sentence: life imprisonment.
Prior the verdict’s announcement, presiding judge, Ahmad Ref’at, delivered a speech extolling the virtues of the revolution and strongly condemning the wrongs of the erstwhile regime. As he announced that Mubarak would be spending the rest of his days in prison (or, more likely, a fairly comfortable hospital), initial cheers of jubilation ultimately gave way to anger as Egyptians realized that Mubarak and Adly would be imprisoned not for instigating violence against protestors, but rather, for failing to stop these crimes. Rather than treating the two men as the respective head of state and leader of Egypt’s security services, under whose authority and according to whose orders peaceful protesters were killed, the Egyptian court held Mubarak and Adly liable for being haplessly incapable of stopping the killing of over 800 people and the wounding of many thousands more. Egyptians didn’t buy it. Corruption charges against Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped for exceeding the statute of limitations for such crimes, though the two men will be facing another trial for stock market fraud. The final insult came, however, with the court’s decision to clear many senior Interior Ministry officials of all criminal liability.
Egyptians took to the streets in protest at the verdict, demonstrating the importance of symbolic and not simply practical justice. Though Mubarak could theoretically have faced the death penalty, few believed this was a realistic possibility. Life imprisonment, then, is the maximum reasonably expected sentence, and that is precisely what he got. But the people want Mubarak to be held accountable before a court of law for actively conspiring in the murder of protestors, not simply for failing to prevent these deaths. Many Egyptians also want those affiliated with the much-loathed Interior Ministry to be brought to justice for their role in the deadly repression against demonstrators.
The Mubarak verdict was going to be controversial and potentially incendiary regardless of its timing. Coming in the midst of a presidential election in which Mubarak’s former right-hand-man, Ahmed Shafiq, is one of two candidates slated for a second-round runoff election on June 16 and 17, makes matters much more difficult. Egyptians, the majority of whom are unhappy with having to choose between a relic of the ancien regime and an inarticulate and unpopular Muslim Brotherhood functionary, have streamed into Tahrir over the past several days. They are drawing a connection between the elections and the Mubarak verdict, and demanding that Shafiq withdraw from the race, a rather unlikely possibility.
[i] Well, for the most part.