Who killed the protesters then?
As the verdict was read out, sentencing Hosni Mubarak to life in prison, an earthquake shook the ground not too far from the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the former president preferred to while away his days during his last decade in power.
A verdict that has seemingly appeased nobody has shrouded Egypt’s future in even more uncertainty at a delicate time on the brink of handover from overt military rule to an elected president. For while Mubarak and his interior minister Habib el-Adly got life, his sons and Adly’s aides were completely exonerated.
The streets of Egypt are brewing with discontent in response to a “politicised” verdict: protests in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez are already at full pelt and will increase as the searing summer sun winds down. Egypt is currently in the midst of a presidential election runoff slated for mid-June between Mubarak’s prime minister during the revolution, Ahmed Shafik, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. The two candidates that made it to the second round have been roundly criticised as the two options the majority did not want.
As such, the two sides have been appealing to those in the centre to come onside, Mubarak stalwart Shafik promising to protect the revolution and its ideals and Morsi promising a rule of consensus where liberal voices will be taken onboard. The verdict changes the game somewhat, with the Brotherhood looking to bolster its damaged revolutionary credentials by announcing its official participation in protests against the verdict, and Shafik spinning the verdict into the narrative that no one is above the law. The real powerbroker in Egypt, the ruling military junta, has promised that the handover will happen on time, its “deep-state” status assured irrespective of the winner. The potential trouble fomenting is unlikely to derail these plans, despite a preferential verdict that promotes its diktat of authority superseding citizen rights.
The verdict is above all a triumph of state power, exemplified by the acquittal of the interior ministry’s main commanders who oversaw police actions during the revolution. The aura of impunity has once again returned to the state apparatus which was the initial catalyst for the people’s revolt (25 January is “police day” in Egypt).
Fifteen months after his ouster, Mubarak was sentenced to life imprisonment. The chagrin though is because of the reason – failing to prevent the deaths of protesters during the revolutions rather than ordering it – and the acquittal of six interior ministry aides along with Mubarak’s sons, Gamal, the president in waiting, and Alaa. After a brief period of elation at the announcement of Mubarak’s sentence along with Adly, anger was palpable as news seeped through that the others were acquitted, along with long-time business partner Hussein Salem who remains at large, and more pertinently, no one was found guilty of ordering the deaths of protesters.
The verdict is adding to the ambiguity, and leaves the door open for Mubarak to at least have his sentence reduced on appeal. Judge Ahmed Rifat said there was no concrete evidence that Mubarak, Adly or his aides were behind the orders to open fire on protesters during the 18 days in January 2011 that led to his fall.
While ostensibly the blame is being placed on the prosecution for compiling a weak case against the defendants, what the Mubarak trial really highlights is the archaic and mangled workings of the Egyptian judiciary, and the failure of the law to include provisions that could bring to account police officers who opened fire with wanton abandon on citizens of the state.
Originally published in the Guardian.