Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images
Egyptians anti-Mubarak protesters raise their hands during a rally in Cairo's Tahrir square on Sunday.
CAIRO – The rise and fall of Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak has been a watershed moment for victim’s families, a country in transition and autocratic rulers across the Middle East.
The announcement Saturday of Mubarak’s conviction and sentence to life in prison for failing to stop the killings of some 900 protesters during last year’s uprising initially triggered a sense of euphoria and vindication for many outside the courtroom.
But the acquittal of his two sons (one-time heir apparent, Gamal, and wealthy businessman, Alaa) on corruption charges, as well as the acquittal of six senior security officials on charges of ordering the killings, angered many. Mubarak was also acquitted on other corruption related charges.
The entire Mubarak trial, dubbed by many here as the “trial of the century,” had several shortcomings that, in the eyes of activists, lawyers and human rights advocates raise questions about the intentions of the ruling military council and the competence and independence of Egypt’s general prosecutor and the judiciary.
A fair investigation and trial?
Mubarak’s investigation, arrest and subsequent trial were the result of public street protests that forced the military to bring Mubarak to justice in order to defuse mounting public anger. Mubarak appeared in court nearly six months after he stepped down from power. Had street protests not erupted, questions remain as to whether he would have ever been brought to justice under the watch of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the group of 20 senior officers in the Egyptian military currently ruling the country, all of who were appointed by Mubarak himself.
With anger growing in Egypt over the Mubarak verdict, protestors returned to Tahrir Square to demand justice for those who died in Egypt's revolution. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.
Egypt’s general prosecutor is one of many officials who was appointed by Mubarak and yet remains in power today. He and his team were responsible for bringing the charges and the case against the former president. Even by the prosecutor’s own admission, the case against Mubarak was thin because key pieces of evidence were destroyed or deleted – including recordings from police command rooms.
In addition, as pointed out by legal experts in Egypt, in order for the prosecution to collect evidence, it had to ask the criminal investigators at the Ministry of Interior to gather it. Hence one of the fundamental problems in the trial: in order to investigate the six senior security officials from the Interior Ministry who were on trial for killing protestors, all men who at some point ran various police and security agencies of the state, the general prosecutor had to turn to their subordinates and the institutions they ran to find evidence against their former bosses. No wonder key evidence disappeared.
Aside from the collection of evidence, victim’s families and their lawyers have cast doubt on the integrity of the trial. After initially being broadcast to the public, the judge ordered the trial to take place behind closed doors.
The testimony of key witnesses who served under Mubarak, like that of the current de-facto ruler of the country Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces Sami Annan and the former head of intelligence Omar Suliman, were in secret. The court never officially made those testimonies public.
Another point that has raised eyebrows is that in acquitting Mubarak and his sons on corruption charges, the judge said that the alleged crimes occurred beyond the statute of limitations. Bur how did such a statute of limitations evade the attention of the team of lawyers and the general prosecutor? That oversight has also raised suspicions about the competence of prosecutors.
The Mubarak verdict has triggered public outcry and reignited the deep seated mistrust activists and protestors have in the country’s transition led by the military. Sixteen months after Egypt’s revolution, one central question remains unanswered: Who killed the demonstrators? The general prosecutor’s inability to successfully try cases against the police has only added to the public perception that the state’s institutions are not genuine in pursuing justice.
Even Al Ahram, Egypt’s leading state-owned newspaper, splashed the headline “Anger Sweeps Egypt, No Retribution for Martyrs.”
Manu Brabo / AP
A protester sits on a tree branch as he waves Egypt's national flag during a demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Sunday.
With Egypt’s presidential field now narrowed down to just two candidates, Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq who will compete in a run-off election on June 16 and 17 – both have been quick to tap into the public outcry over the Mubarak verdict for political gain.
Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, described the ruling as a shock. Morsi has promised, if elected, to form a team of forensic, judicial and investigative experts to compile all the evidence and retry the former president and his entire regime for crimes committed throughout his 30-year rule, not just the narrowly defined period of the revolution.
The other run-off candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, who served for years under Mubarak, including as Egypt’s prime minister during the uprising, said Egyptians should respect the verdict. He said that it will serve as a reminder to Egypt’s future rulers that they cannot govern without accountability.
Failure of justice
However, the perception among most Egyptians was that the judiciary was not immune to manipulation.
Immediately after the verdict was read, lawyers representing the victim’s families began chanting in the courtroom “the people want the purification of the judiciary” and “invalid.” Their immediate assessment was that the verdict failed to deliver justice.
As one prominent activist said in television interview “Mubarak’s historic trial was investigated by regime culprits and judged by remnants of the regime.”
While Mubarak and co.’s verdict was widely considered lenient and an injustice to victims, in the court of public of opinion, the greatest travesty has so far proven to be confidence in the Egyptian legal system.
The trial is now being cited as one more example of Egypt’s botched transition to democracy.
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