“The acquittal was fitting. It was the people that exported the Egyptian gas to Israel, and it was the people that ordered the protesters be killed, and it was the people that stole the people’s money, and the people are to blame for the poverty and the ignorance. It was the people that ate the cheese,” mocked Salma Hamdeen Sabahi – the daughter of Hamdeen Sabahi, who ran for president of Egypt – on her Facebook page, about the “trial of the century”: the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
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Although he will continue serving his three-year sentence for other crimes, Mubarak was acquitted in the trial of the revolution. The 86-year-old was not tried on his three-plus decades in power, on his repression of free speech, his human rights violations, or his corrupt government. There are no laws against these things in the Egyptian legal code.
Mubarak was tried for specific crimes: selling national gas to Israel, and ordering Egyptian police to kill protesters during the early days of the 2011 revolution.
Nearly 850 people died during those days of late January and early February 2011, but the court only tried 239 cases of death. Some two years ago, Mubarak was given a life sentence for these charges, but the appeals court overturned the decision due to a “technical failure” in the filing of the case and ordered a retrial. Now, it remains to be seen if the prosecution will appeal the acquittal.
The acquittal is likely to have far-reaching consequences. As Mubarak supporters revel in delight, the opposition – including many protest leaders – are furious. There are no expectations, however, for tensions to come to an immediate head in the form of violent protests or clashes with Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s government, either on the streets or the editorial pages. This is because Sissi, or anyone else who fights the terror of Muslim Brotherhood – including Mubarak, who fought them in the past – is considered the “nation’s sweetheart.”
Mubarak, whose ouster symbolized the victory of the protest movement, and whose trial was meant to symbolize not only the end of his regime but the tyranny that began as far back as 1952, is now likely to become the symbol of renewal for that very same tyranny.
The court’s ruling totals over 1,400 pages. But that same legal system, which had relative public legitimacy during Mubarak’s reign, and slightly more afterward, is now being perceived as an integral part of the machine.
The technical legal and judicial clauses used to explain the acquittal will not blur the perceived connection between the presidential palace now occupied by Sissi and the hospital bed on which Mubarak rests. In other words, one general had another general acquitted; one president exonerated a predecessor. “This day, which brings Egypt back to what it was before January 25, 2011, will not be forgotten soon by Egypt. We do not know how others will act but for us, and for those who guard the spark of revolution, the question is freedom or death,” read the homepage of the April 6 movement, one of the revolution’s leaders and whose activities have been forbidden by the court.
The court’s decision – if it remains unchanged upon appeal – saves Sissi the dilemma of a potential pardon, which was expected if Mubarak had been convicted. But when Mubarak’s interior minister, Habib el-Adly – who oversaw the dispersal of the protests – was also acquitted, along with many senior police officers, the public will want to know where all the guilty people are hiding.
Such an explanation is not likely to be given, and as such the “trial of the century” will continue to add to the feelings of frustration, breathing new life into the revolutionary movements ahead of the parliamentary elections expected to be held next year.
But in contrast to the early days of the revolution, and after Mubarak’s acquittal, it’s doubtful if the opposition and revolution leaders can shout “The people and the army are one.” Now the army has a president, and he can ensure that Tahrir Square remains empty.