Egypt’s trial by fire

Arab leaders will be watching Hosni Mubarak’s trial closely to see the possible repercussions of autocracy.

Habib el-Adly, former president Hosni Mubarak’s interior minister, could be facing the death penalty if he is proven guilty of murder in his upcoming trial on May 21 [EPA]

Hosni Mubarak, the man who ruled Egypt for three decades, has been declared healthy enough to be transferred from his hospital in the luxury resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, to the infamous Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo, the capital.

Although the relocation may take weeks as the prison is outfitted with the necessary medical equipment, the move signifies a dramatic escalation in the possibility that Mubarak will face trial, a turn of events most Egyptians never dreamed possible. 
Mubarak is being held on charges of corruption, amassing wealth in the tens of billions during his 30-year reign, which has potentially made him one of the richest men in the world. Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, and two sons, Gamal and Ala’a, face similar charges.
The most serious accusation, however, is documented in the report of the official state fact-finding mission responsible for investigating the deaths of over 800 protesters during Egypt’s revolution that began on January 25 and led to the ouster of Mubarak and his government.

It contends that the former Egyptian president bares ultimate responsibility for the killings, after his Minister of Interior, Habib el-Adly, directly ordered security forces to quell the uprising with live ammunition, among other brutal and subversive tactics. El-Adly, one of the most loathed officials in Mubarak’s regime, was convicted of profiteering and money laundering on Thursday and sentenced to 12 years in prison, a sign of the seriousness of Egypt’s new leaders to carry out the people’s demands for justice. If el-Adly is convicted of murder in an upcoming trial set to commence on May 21, he could potentially face the death sentence.

Implications of justice

The trial of Hosni Mubarak represents an epic fall from power worthy of a Greek tragedy, and the reactions of people inside Egypt and abroad, remain mixed. Some Arab Gulf nations are said to have offered the Egyptian military authority now in power billions of dollars if Mubarak was given amnesty. Hence, the long-term consequences of this event, unprecedented in the Arab world, may transcend far beyond the crimes and punishment of one man.
“At the beginning, when the idea first came out, I did not think it was necessary,” says Ziad Mokhtar, an investment banker living in Cairo.
“However, when I saw a lot of the presidential candidates coming forward, I thought it would be a useful reminder to them that this is what will happen if you go wrong. That the presidency is not a gift, it is a responsibility, and it is a tough one.” 
Contenders to Mubarak’s crown including Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, were both initially against the trial, saying it was unwarranted after Mubarak stepped down from power. However, when the Egyptian public began mobilising once again in Tahrir Square to demand the accountability of their former leaders, both men quickly changed their tune.
“Punishment is the proper treatment for people who committed bad acts, its completely natural,” says Nariman Rouschdy, a law student at Cairo University.
“It makes me happy because this money that was stolen will eventually be returned to the people.”
Looking to the future

The prosecution of corrupt officials has spread beyond Mubarak and el-Adly, and now includes a network of bureaucrats and businessmen that profited from the regime, including Mubarak’s former prime minister, finance minister, chief of staff, and the former head of his political party, the NDP.

All are being held in Tora Prison along with Mubarak’s two sons, Ala’a and Gamal, who are being investigated for using their father’s position to enrich themselves. Only a few months ago, Gamal Mubarak was considered the likely successor to his father.
Despite the widespread desire for accountability, some Egyptians are more concerned with looking forward than at what happened in the past, and are wary of those who may try to turn this trial into a public spectacle. Yasmin El-Rifae, an Egyptian journalist, believes that what is most important for the country lies ahead.
“I think that el-Adly and Mubarak, and all other corrupt officials, should see trial for their crimes. However, I think it’s important that we not place too much emphasis on this in terms of Egypt’s future – we should be aware that this is often used to distract the public from ongoing injustices or the failure of the military council to deliver on its promises,” says El-Rifae, echoing a wariness common in Egypt with the current military authorities.
Indeed, many in Egypt share the concern that the military should be watched closely. Mubarak just turned 83 years-old and is suffering from health problems, including an alleged heart attack that occurred during the first round of questioning with investigators. Even if taken before a court, the case could be drawn out for years, with Mubarak not lasting long enough to serve his sentence, if found guilty. 
Families of the victims of the revolution are prepared to prevent this from happening and have made this apparent in one of the cases already under way against Habib el-Adly. Their protests outside the courtroom in the preliminary hearing of el-Adly pressured the judge presiding over the case to relocate the trial to a courtroom capable of accommodating their presence when the trial commences on May 21. 
Setting a precedent

How the trials against el-Adly and Mubarak are handled will be extremely important. In a region of autocrats, the fate of Hosni Mubarak could have a tremendous impact.
The broad symbolic outcomes of this trial are not exclusive to Egypt and its people. It is an event that will have repercussions well beyond the North African country as other leaders and nations observe how it unfolds. If Mubarak is convicted, and potentially sentenced to death – as the current foreign minister Nabil al-Araby has said is possible – it could serve as a precedent and deterrent for other dictators on the abuse of power.

In particular, as revolutions continue in the Middle East region and beyond, regimes may take greater consideration when using violence to curb peaceful protests. On the other hand, it might also cause them to cling to power more forcefully, as with the case of Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, who is seeking an immunity package as part of any deal to step down from power.
One thing is for certain, everyone – people and leaders alike – will be watching closely to this experiment in Egyptian justice, the outcome of which could play a deciding role in the region’s future.
“We have to admit one fact, that all institutions here are corrupt,” warns Rouschdy. “We must keep our eyes open and think about everything in a logical way. If people lose attention, the government could play their games again.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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