Mubarak's acquittal: Back to square one?

Mubarak's acquittal: Back to square one?
Comment: Rather than being a source of shock and anger, Mubarak's recent acquittal on all charges is a reminder that the 'deep state' is very much intact, writes Mohamed ElMeshad.
5 min read
06 Mar, 2017
Deposed president Mubarak was acquitted of involvement in the killing of protesters [Getty Images]

Since April 2011, after Mubarak's arrest, as an involved Egyptian journalist, I'd always be asked by friends: "So, where do you think he really is?"

No one seemed to believe that one of the world's most durable autocrats would be subject to any kind of imprisonment.

Seeing him behind bars sent shockwaves through the streets. In the already congested streets of downtown Cairo, everyone stopped in their tracks to peer into TV screens in cafés or shops displaying the unbelievable scenes.

Some were elated at a sight they may have not dared dream of, while others were unexpectedly emotional and saddened by seeing "how the mighty have fallen" - not to mention the ousted president's supporters - known by many as Mubarak's children - who were furious.

Perhaps, as humans, those who were not directly affected on a daily basis by the brute force of his regime felt pangs of sympathy for someone who had prominently figured in their lives each and every day for the past 30 years.

In total, there was so much to unpack. But the more cynical observers found it difficult to believe that his trial was real, and that the revolution had "won". They did not believe the regime to be so fickle as to wither away so quickly - and for its octogenarian figurehead to be summarily discarded.

So they always wondered where he was "really" - even after he was sentenced to life in 2012 for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day uprising.

For a brief moment, it felt as if the Egyptian judiciary may pull through and bring about a semblance of justice sought by so many

For a brief moment, it felt as if the Egyptian judiciary may pull through and bring about a semblance of justice sought by so many, over the hundreds of protesters killed at the hands of the trigger-happy security forces.

Many were hoping it would be a symbolic victory for the more lofty notions of "justice" always prevailing. Believing in the justice system was more a matter of convenience than logic. It meant that one of the state's main institutions could stay intact and that the process of rebuilding after the Mubarak regime wouldn't be fraught with further instability.

The security vacuum immediately after Mubarak's deposal was enough to scare many of a potentially violent future. The instability that followed during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ill-equipped President Mohamed Morsi further added fuel to that fire. 

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Something had to stay intact, besides the military - which has never really wavered as an institution over the past five years (not in public, at least).

The judiciary became the civilian institution that - according to successive regimes - transcended criticism and remained too important to be the target of deconstruction or reform.

Internally, evidence suggests that the individuals making up the higher echelons of Egypt's judicial system are a small clique that has gained considerable benefits - especially from the Mubarak regime - who will do what they can to keep others out.

Nonetheless, Mubarak's acquittal, despite coming directly from a court, was never really a judicial matter. It never should have been portrayed that way, and should never have been an acceptable path to resolution. For one, many legal experts - pro- and anti-Mubarak - have been saying that unless there was a definite smoking gun and cooperative prosecutors, it would be difficult to legally tie the crimes, whether for murder or corruption, directly to the person of the former president.

Second, and most importantly, making it a purely judicial battle meant casting aside the real reasons why there had to be a "trial" of sorts to begin with.

For three decades, he had presided over the systematic decay of many Egyptian institutions - not least of which was education. Police brutality and corruption had existed before Mubarak, but during his time in power they had taken on new, and some would argue more egregious, forms.

The crimes of which he was convicted during the 18-day uprising could not have truly been expressed, much less resolved, in a court of justice

The crimes of which he was convicted during the 18-day uprising could not have truly been expressed, much less resolved, in a court of justice. Attempting to do so would allow some to tie the case to the very fairness of the revolutionary movement itself.

During one of the more recent court hearings of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, he apparently yelled out: "I am still the president of Egypt!" to a bemused judge.

It would have been a sad and pathetic moment, if it wasn't also damning evidence of the fact that Morsi, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, live in a world that is completely detached from the reality of power in Egypt and how it relates to society.

It is for these reasons that many, regardless of judicial evidence, are not upset to see Morsi behind bars.

His negligence and ineptitude as president, even for a year, have had far-reaching repercussions across a society in the middle of major transitions.

Similarly, many weren't even thinking of Muburak's "trial". When he was acquitted, shock and anger were far from the first emotions to take hold.

Rather it was more like an added weight to an already heavy feeling, acknowledging that the most backwards and damaging elements of the "deep state" of which Mubarak was a part, is entirely intact - and will continue to dig its claws into the back of Egypt.

His exoneration was not an event in and of itself, but yet one of many reminders that the struggle to supplant the corrupt layers of individuals and institutions impeding any path to progress are still strongly intact.

Mohamed ElMeshad is a journalist and a PhD candidate at SOAS, focusing on the political economy of the media. He extensively worked in Egypt, Bahrain, West Africa, the UK and US. Recently, he contributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ book, Attacks on the Press (2015).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.