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The revival of the old regime and the crisis of the revolution

January 24, 2014 at 11:32 am

Surprising things happened in Egypt this week, reminding us that we were on the verge of forgetting about the revolution and opening our eyes to one or two things.

At the beginning of the week, former president Hosni Mubarak resurfaced to attend his retrial. He looked as if he had just returned from a holiday at an exotic resort and had come back to pick up where he left off in Cairo.

His hair was dyed; he wore his sunglasses and stylish white clothes; and he made sure to smile the whole time. He even acknowledged his supporters who attended the session by waving to them repeatedly. In contrast to his first trial, he positioned himself such that he could see the others in the court, something that he had avoided before. He looked very rested, relaxed and in high spirits. According to Almasry Alyoum newspaper, “[Mubarak] tried to remove the image of the broken man who had given up during his first trial from the minds of the people.”

The newspaper headline was significant: “Mubarak regains his prestige in the Brotherhood cage”. The implication is that it is the Muslim Brotherhood which is putting him on trial, not the revolution, and he was ready to challenge the movement like any other angry Egyptian these days.

Some may interpret this as a mere settling of scores between Mubarak and the Brotherhood. Of course, that should read between Mubarak and Egyptian society that revolted against his regime and insisted on his ouster out of anger for its own dignity; in protest at official corruption; and in an attempt to regain its freedom.

While some were taken in by Mubarak’s performance, it was a provocation to the people of Egypt and a display of contempt for the victims of his regime. Nevertheless, his supporters claimed that the number of people joining their website increased by 10,000 during and after the hearing, reaching 1.80 million people in total.

The trial seems like a single episode in a long saga, the producers and directors of which are seeking to clear this man’s name and brainwash the Egyptian people, either out of sympathy for him or hatred for the Brotherhood. I will not discuss the performance of Mubarak’s mouthpieces and sons who rode the wave and fought against the protesters, because this was expected of them. Watching them, words failed me.

I will, however, discuss their published statements. His people displayed incredible audacity, with some founding a party with a media and PR office (the funding for which is uncertain). Some spoke about alliances that would strengthen the confrontation with the Brotherhood, quoting the famous saying, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Yet others produced a website reminiscing about the Mubarak era entitled, “We apologise, President”.

On March 16th, Almasry Alyoum published an article by a young researcher headed “When Mubarak stands before the throne”. The author, Gamal Abu Alhasan, adopted Naguib Mahfouz’s idea in his book “Before the Throne”, which was essentially a judging of Egypt’s rulers before a pharaonic court in which Osiris is judge and Isis is the lawyer. Being inspired by this idea, Alhasan presents the scene of Hosni Mubarak’s trial and imagines what he may have to say for himself and what his lawyer, “Isis”, would say.

The entire text was focused on what he considered to be Mubarak’s achievements, following the path of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, to achieving peace and security; he also sought to justify his mistakes. He then gives a satirical account of Gamal Abdel Nasser, saying that he distributed poverty to the people and established a battered state that his successors have tried to fix. Isis the lawyer commented on his speech by saying that Mubarak was trustworthy and responsible, and that it was enough he kept his country peaceful and secure for 30 years.

This article was embraced warmly by the newspaper’s editor who writes under the byline “Newton”. In the March 29th issue of the newspaper, he described the article as “brilliant” and called for a scientific and objective assessment of Mubarak and his reign. Mubarak’s supporters asked to give their accounts of him in an attempt to furnish him with justice. This message was picked up by one of Mubarak’s journalist supporters and he sent a comment to “Newton”, which was published on April 13. In this, he supported the call to “bring justice” to the “wronged” Mubarak and stated the need to hear the other side of the story of his rule. He also promised to contribute to the justice campaign, as he was one of Mubarak’s men, with a book being written about the Mubarak era and its fall.

The comment mentioned earlier was published on the day of Mubarak’s retrial. I do not know if that was deliberate or not, but when I skimmed through Almasry Alyoum on the day it was published, I thought it was likely because I came across two other comments promoting the same ideas which were very supportive of Mubarak and his regime. One of these comments was so defensive of the ex-president that it made a long comparison between the events of his era and today’s, comparing the best of Mubarak’s time with the worst of what we are witnessing today.

Such writings turned the condemnation of Mubarak’s period in office into a mere opinion that may be right or wrong, and turned the revolution from a dream which restored the country to the people, raising the hopes of millions of oppressed people in the Arab world in the process, into a nightmare that destroyed the country.

The campaign to clear Mubarak’s name has had an impact on the judiciary, not least the ruling that he never “at any time in the past during his position in authority of the country prevented the execution of any ruling issued by any court”. This statement was made on March 29th by the new Cairo Misdemeanours Court judge, as he issued a ruling refusing a request by the lawyers of two brothers to release them after a ruling in favour of their release was made but not implemented. It must be borne in mind that the Ministry of Interior did not implement any rulings in favour of any of the 100,000 detainees imprisoned during Mubarak’s rule.

I have heard this sort of thing before and I pointed out the list of the Mubarak regime’s violations of judicial rulings. This made the judiciary rebel and establish the Independent Judiciary Movement. I thought that this was an exceptional case, but Judge Zakaria Abd al-Aziz, former president of the Appeals Court in Cairo and former head of the Judges Club, told me that the issue was a lot bigger than just a ruling which defends Mubarak and favours his regime; indeed, he said, this has been the case with 90 per cent of the judiciary and prosecution staff, who have had a negative attitude towards the revolution. He also believed that they played a main role in assisting the icons of the former regime to evade their just punishment by destroying and diminishing the importance of evidence against them. He also believed that the custodial sentences issued to some were actually intended to keep them in a safe place, away from those seeking revenge.

Judge Zakaria Abd al-Aziz also added that matters did not end with destroying and diminishing evidence. It extended to the dealings with issues of questionable innocence, as they were fragmented to weaken the case and avoid rulings. For example, in the case of Mubarak, in which he was accused of killing protesters, a charge was also made against Habib al-Adli and his aides. It should have been one case, but was split into two, so that the verdict of innocence in the first would act as grounds for innocence in the second. He also added that there were doubts about the cases of killing demonstrators, for which the Courts of Appeal issued rulings, but they were all cancelled.

The conclusion reached by Abd al-Aziz, which is also supported by Judge Samir Hafez, the former President of Appeal, is that most of the revolutionary cases have been tampered with; the police concealed all the evidence they possessed, the prosecution did not make the required effort to investigate the alleged crimes, and the former Prosecutor General who ran the operation presented weak cases to the court. The result was that the punishment of the former regime’s killers and corrupt members turned into a form of protection of them.

However, Judge Tareq Al-Bushra has another opinion, which concludes that the judiciary was pulled into a matter for which it is not qualified; it was established to restore people’s rights, not to break up fights between politicians. When a president who destroyed the country and oppressed the people stands before it, after being overthrown by a revolution, this places an ordinary judge in a difficult situation. In his opinion, the problem is not the rulings made by the judiciary, but the idea of involving it in a political battle between politicians, whether it be cases set forth by the government, or its involvement in the battle between the opposition and the government.

We cannot separate Mubarak’s image and waves to his supporters in court from the revival of his regime and its supporters. Moreover, we cannot separate this revival from the crisis of the Egyptian revolution, represented by the blunders of the government and the division of the nation into two opposing and battling camps. This has had a seriously negative impact on the general situation in the country and threatens a return to military rule.

We understand that Mubarak’s supporters are seeking to reorganise and join the opposition to confront what it calls Brotherhood rule. However, it is incomprehensible that they are being embraced by some opposition groups, because if the latter are trying to overthrow President Morsi, the former are trying to cut short the entire revolution and finish-off the national groups allied to it.

If justice and “restoration” is needed anywhere, it is needed for the revolution, not Mubarak. It was, after all, he who led the country for 30 years full of corruption and nearly destroyed it in the process.

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