Can ‘Mubarak’s widows’ make a comeback in Egypt?
In addition to its literal meaning, the word aramel (widows) in Arabic carries a political reference. It was coined to refer to those who used to have political and economic privileges and suddenly lost their only source of support.
The word became popular following the demise of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Those who had supported him were labelled “Saddam’s widows”. It was picked up again after the end of George W. Bush’s term as president of the United States and the phrase “Bush’s widows” was applied to all those who used to receive US financial support within the framework of backing for democracy and civil society.
The “Egyptian marines” is another phrase that had become popular during the period when US Marines were being deployed in many places outside US territory. Anyone who was accused of defending US policies and measures in the region was called a “marine”.
The war of politically charged labels has never abated. Thus, after the disappearance of “Saddam’s widows”, “Bush’s widows” and “Egyptian marines” came the phrase “Mubarak’s widows” — supporters of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, toppled in the January 2011 revolution.
“Mubarak’s widows” tried to rehabilitate the deposed president by launching social media campaigns under the banner “We’re sorry, Captain”. Their voices rose a notch every time the revolution failed to achieve one of its objectives.
It is true that failing to concretely improve living conditions for Egyptians works to the advantage of Mubarak’s supporters who have become more and more emboldened. The latest life sentence against Mubarak for killing demonstrators during the revolution was challenged by an army of lawyers and experts. Mubarak was retried and the Egyptian Court of Appeal, the highest court in the country, on March 2nd declared him not guilty of the charge of committing manslaughter against demonstrators.
The new verdict was dubbed in Egypt as the “absolute truth” but many saw it as completely beside the truth. Many Egyptians are convinced that the former president ordered police to fire on the crowds. More than 1,000 people were killed and 6,000 others were wounded during the events.
It is strange that Habib el- Adly, minister of Interior under Mubarak, and his senior aides were all found not guilty. The same is true for the majority of ministers and senior public servants who were tried on corruption charges. However, many of those who were arrested during riots following the demise of the Mubarak regime are still in prison.
During the three years following the revolution, pro-Mubarak backers were mostly absent from the public eye. From time to time, there would be a timid appearance in the media by people who were still acceptable to the masses.
With the January 30th, 2013, events that toppled the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak supporters became more visible. They believed that the new revolution rehabilitated them; some even indicated that they were behind this second revolution and that the good old Mubarak times were back.
Working to their advantage were the innumerable political, economic and social crises affecting the country. The slogan “Mubarak times were better” reflected the feeling of disappointment among the population. Egyptians had hoped that, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the helm, their lives would improve but they did not and people are once more hankering for the good old Mubarak days.
The verdict clearing Mubarak of the charge of killing rioters in 2011 represents a major turning point because it will also clear Mubarak supporters of any political wrongdoing. It must be noted that Mubarak was still found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison in what is known as “the presidential palaces case” in which he was charged with corruption.
However, the not guilty verdict in the case of killing demonstrators carries psychological weight and will certainly be used by his supporters to woo back public opinion. Many Egyptians were willing to close their eyes to the numerous scandals that rocked the Mubarak era, but they were unwilling to overlook the criminal charge of manslaughter brought against him.
The latest verdict will allow Mubarak to regain his home. He had already served the 3-year sentence he received on corruption charges in a prison hospital. We are going to see more of his supporters in public life. The current regime does not have any convincing objections to their return to public life. It is expected that many politicians and media people emerge into the spotlight.
Seeing more Mubarak regime people on the public scene carries a risk of wider political problems. There is still in Egypt an influential political current that can never forgive what it considers crimes against the Egyptian people by Mubarak and his cronies.