Mubarak’s acquittal could prompt son’s return

Sunday 19/03/2017
Mixed emotions. A supporter of former president Hosni Mubarak plays a trumpet outside the Maadi military hospital after the Court of Cassation acquitted Mubarak in Cairo, on March 2nd. (Reuters)

Cairo - When a Cairo court ab­solved former Egyp­tian president Hosni Mubarak of respon­sibility for the kill­ing of protesters during the 2011 uprising, Haitham al-Khatib was at home, watching television.

Khatib, a leading protester dur­ing the “Arab spring” uprisings in Egypt, was not surprised by Mubarak’s acquittal. Sensing that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to convict the former autocratic leader in another trial, Khatib had been certain it was coming.

Nonetheless, the verdict stung. To Khatib, it signified the official declaration of the death of the anti- Mubarak uprising.

“It is as if the revolution had nev­er happened,” he said. “All the peo­ple who died for Egypt to get rid of this man and his cronies and start a new chapter of democracy and free­dom died in vain.”

After the revolution, Mubarak, his two sons, some of his ministers and his party’s business moguls were imprisoned. It was Egypt’s episode of the “Arab spring,” which brought down regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen but derailed Syria, where a civil war still raged.

In Egypt, former officials were re­leased from jail one by one, either by paying tens of millions of Egyp­tian pounds to have their criminal charges dropped or due to lack of evidence, as was cited in the case against Mubarak.

About 850 Egyptians were killed during the 18 days of the uprising in January and February in 2011, some by snipers and many others dur­ing clashes with police. Thousands more were wounded.

The court on March 2nd said Mubarak had not ordered the kill­ing of protesters, prompting dis­appointment from people such as Khatib, who was at the forefront of the uprising.

“The court hasn’t done the revo­lution’s martyrs justice,” he said. “Why should we trust the justice system in the future?”

Not everyone feels the same way. Mubarak’s acquittal brought joy to millions of Egyptians, some who support him and others nostalgic for the days when he was in power, which, compared to the current economic and security hardships, seem relatively calm.

Following the acquittal, hundreds of Mubarak supporters hurried to a southern Cairo military hospi­tal where the 88-year-old former president was held. They honked car horns, danced and sang in cel­ebration. Mubarak was released on March 13th.

Beni Suef University political sci­ence Professor Ahmed Darrag said Mubarak’s popularity has been on the rise since he stepped down from office.

“Egyptians compare the econom­ic hardships they suffer now to the considerably good economic condi­tions of their country under the for­mer president,” said Darrag.

The upturn in popularity means a lot for the political future of Mubarak and his two sons, espe­cially Gamal Mubarak, who has also been freed. It could also affect per­ceptions of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, analysts said.

Since coming to power in mid- 2014, Sisi has applied a series of painful and unpopular economic reforms, including subsidy cuts and a flotation of the national cur­rency. The reforms angered millions of Egyptian citizens struggling to make ends meet.

Gamal Mubarak, a banker who was groomed to succeed his father before 2011, frequently appears in public, attends social occasions and speaks to people on the street.

Eve­rywhere he goes, the 54-year-old former ruling party policymaker is greeted by a nostalgic public.

This public enthusiasm, analysts said, may tempt him to launch a re­turn to politics, possibly even a run for president, which could make him a serious competitor to Sisi.

“The business class that pro­pelled Gamal’s political rise during his father’s last years in office is still present and ready to back him yet again,” Darrag said. “This business class could not for the most part curry favours with Sisi, who has aversion to everything that belongs to Mubarak.”

Sisi’s 4-year term ends in June 2018. The constitution allows him to seek a second term in office.

Khatib and fellow protesters say they can do little to oppose the Mubaraks’ potential return to poli­tics.

“State repression drives the op­position either out of Egypt or into the virtual world of social media,” he said.

However, writer Sakina Fouad said the military establishment would sabotage any bid by Gamal Mubarak to return to politics.

“There is a psychological barrier between the Mubaraks and the vast majority of the public,” Fouad said. “However, if it is not the public that will oppose their return to politics, it is the military, which fully backs Sisi, that will.”