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Mubarak's acquittal: what it means for Egypt's revolution

Despite the bitter symbolic defeat, Mubarak’s acquittal presents an opportunity for protesters to redraw the lines of Egypt’s ongoing struggle and rise up again

An Egyptian judge dismissed on Saturday all charges of corruption and of killing 239 protesters (out of over 840 dead) against former President Hosni Mubarak on procedural grounds. The court also acquitted Mubarak’s two sons, a close business associate, Mubarak’s former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six of his state security aides.

This comes as a devastating conclusion for the families of hundreds of martyrs and injured of the January 25 Revolution and its aftermath who have waited for over three long years for justice to be served. But in reality, this verdict should not be surprising, particularly coming from a judiciary that has been widely viewed as highly politicised, not independent from the executive branch, and acting as the judicial arm of the “deep state” and its current military-backed regime.

Mubarak’s case has not been an issue of justice but one of politics. It sadly mirrors the trajectory of the faltering January 25 Revolution. When the revolution was vibrant and united three years ago, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that was running the country then had to yield to popular pressure and put Mubarak, his sons, and his security lieutenants on trial. He, and many of his men, was acquitted when the revolution became weak as a result of the July 2013 military coup that has relentlessly been undoing the January 25 Revolution. Ironically, the youth, who succeeded in 2011 in bringing Mubarak’s regime down, have been sentenced to long prison terms by the same judiciary for defying the restrictive protest law and for their opposition to the military-backed rule of Egypt’s new authoritarian general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is by far more brutal, bloody and capricious than Mubarak.

Many see this verdict as an outright, if not in the least a symbolic, defeat for the January 25 Revolution and all its aspirations for rule of law and a free, democratic system. In his clarification of the verdict, the judge took issue with that revolution and its faulty process. Mubarak’s actual conviction has already taken place in Tahrir Square throughout the 18 days. Millions of Egyptians have condemned his 30 year rule of corruption and repression.

The verdict clearly shows that the institutions of the current military-backed regime are becoming increasingly confident, or perhaps reckless, not fearing a serious backlash to its repressive measures. A guilty verdict could have provided Sisi with an opportunity to dissociate himself from Mubarak’s legacy. But this acquittal, in fact, exposes Sisi and his “revolutionary” legitimacy. It signals the fact that his “state” is not interested in reform and is willing to go all the way to protect its symbols. Sisi is surrounded by many of Mubarak’s old advisors and insists on full impunity for those who kill for the state. Since July 2013, Sisi’s regime has massacred over one thousand and four hundred protesters, and no one has been brought to justice for their brutal murder.

Unmistakably, the military-backed regime is sending a strong message that Egypt’s authoritarian rulers and their repressive institutions, be it the state security, police or military, are sovereign and not subject to accountability. Mubarak’s incrimination would have indirectly incriminated the current regime that killed, imprisoned, and tortured more Egyptian protesters.  

Mubarak’s acquittal reveals the state and nature of the institutions that are currently in control in Egypt. The judiciary is not trusted and no longer acts as a safeguard for citizens’ rights and the service of justice. For the past few years, it has been undoing any gains of the 2011 popular uprisings. It has issued death sentences in summary and sham trials on thousands of opponents of the regime. The security apparatus have proven that old habits die hard and have resorted to torture, rape, unlawful detention and extralegal practices, thus instituting a fiercer and more brutal system than Mubarak’s. Sisi’s regime deals with corruption with remarkable ambivalence. No reform will likely take place from within the system and the prospects for a peaceful reform of these institutions from outside seem blocked. For more than two years, Egypt has been without a parliament since the Supreme Court dissolved the elected parliament in June 2012; and, for over a year, the military-backed regime has been exercising executive and legislative powers without any popular oversight.

Now Mubarak and the much hated symbols of his regime are out, the police state is revived and kicking hard, and the frustration of young hopes is worse than ever, the January 25 Revolution seems to have moved full circle. The dark side of this saga is the growing tendency among Egyptian youth to commit suicide or join ISIS. The bright side is that the causes that ignited the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 are still there and so are the agents that mobilized for it, though they are not united this time.

Despite the bitter symbolic defeat, Mubarak’s release presents an opportunity to redraw the lines of the ongoing struggle in Egypt. Saturday’s verdict might be a call for regrouping and rising up again. It can be a wakeup call to the June 30 camp that revolted against former President Mohammed Morsi and help them realise that what they brought was not a corrective revolution but a counter revolution. In the short run, Egypt’s political dynamics will be subject to the contradictions and struggle between these two forces. The past failings of the revolutionaries and the brutality of the current regime will radicalise the calls of change this time. For sure, the next revolutionary wave will not keep the current state institutions in place.

Emad Shahin is Professor of Public Policy, the American University in Cairo (AUC) and Editor-in-Chief, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Georgetown University.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square after former President Hosni Mubarak is acquitted on murder charges on 29 November 2014 (AFP)

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