Despite the general lack of surprise, the fury of many activists was undimmed on hearing that a judge had dismissed charges against deposed President Hosni Mubarak in connection with the killing of almost 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising in January 2011 that toppled him from power.
On Saturday, Egyptian youth groups called for fresh demonstrations in universities across Egypt amid anger over the Mubarak verdict.
Amal Sharaf, spokesperson of the prominent secular April 6 Youth Movement, said she had not expected Mubarak to be found guilty, but that seeing the charges dismissed remained galling.
“It is so difficult to take [this verdict] after so many died for the revolution,” Sharaf said.
The judge dismissed the charges against Mubarak on a legal technicality, saying that the allegations against Mubarak were “politically motivated”.
The ruling overturns Mubarak’s 2012 life sentence. The former president was also cleared of corruption charges. While his supporters cheered and chanted in celebration outside of the courthouse after the rulings, people who had lost friends and family members were in shock.
In the evening, over a thousand anti-Mubarak protesters gathered next to the Egyptian museum in Cairo, close to Tahrir Square, which had been sealed off by the security forces.
“Today was the new beginning – we are going to start from scratch,” said Sharaf, adding that he hoped the verdict could give a jolt of energy to the fractured and repressed revolutionary movement.
The revolutionary reunion in the streets near Tahrir, however, was short-lived. Crowds chanted against the military and, as Muslim Brotherhood supporters became a more visible presence in the crowd, the security forces eventually moved in on several sides, firing water cannon, tear gas, and birdshot.
Some observers reported live fire. Plainclothes police officers grabbed fleeing protesters. Dozens were arrested. Egypt’s health ministry said that at least one demonstrator was killed.
While Mubarak may go free soon, several members of the April 6 movement remain in prison following a ferocious crackdown on dissent in the wake of the military’s ousting of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Leftist activist Salma Said thinks that, while Mubarak’s fate is freighted with symbolism, the impact of the verdict will be mixed.
“On the one hand, I think that the track of the revolution isn’t affected by Mubarak being inside or outside of jail because we have realised that our problem – although with Mubarak – is with this whole regime. It has not changed since the beginning of the revolution until now, even though the presidents have changed,” Said said.
On the one hand I think that the track of the revolution isn’t affected by Mubarak being inside or outside of jail because we have realized that our problem - although with Mubarak - is with this whole regime. It has not changed since the beginning of the revolution until now, even though the presidents have changed.
Said added that economic policies, police brutality and social injustice remained the same under successive regimes. The verdict, according to Said, exposed a lack of justice in Egypt: ” The judiciary system will always serve the state. ”
Activists say it will be interesting to see how supporters of the current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – who was head of the military intelligence under Mubarak – will react to the verdict.
“I met many people recently who said that Sisi will punish the old regime for its crimes,” said Sharaf. “This verdict means that people will now know the reality of Sisi. That he is lying. That he is one side of the same coin [as Mubarak].”
The verdict, according to some activists, acted as an eye opener.
“I think that the counter-revolution is at its peak but that doesn’t mean that the whole thing is over,” said Said.
Yet, despite the protests against the Mubarak verdict, the overall reaction was muted. Exhaustion from years of disorder and economic turmoil has led many people to support the repressive actions of the state.
Sisi derives much of his personal popularity from ousting Morsi, who sparked widespread discontent with his perceived authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.
Sharaf has previously stated that April 6 movement would – under no circumstances – protest alongside the Muslim Brotherhood again, whom she believes have “betrayed the revolution”.
Yet, hours after the verdict, Sharaf pointed out that the Mubarak verdict, and the ongoing crackdown on activists, may force secularists and Islamists to reconsider protesting together, despite previous professions of hatred.
“I think that this will have to happen, even if we don’t want it to,” Sharaf added.
However, Said is adamant that secular activists should not work with the Brotherhood, who, she believes, made a pact with the military against revolutionaries when in power.
“[The Brotherhood] also ended up representing the same ideals that we have protested and revolted against. I think they are the other face of the counter-revolution in addition to the military.”
Whether the aftershocks of the Mubarak verdict continue to reverberate depends to some extent on what happens next.
The general prosecutor is able to file an appeal against the verdict. There was also some confusion about whether Mubarak will be allowed to leave prison.
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He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in May 2014 on charges of embezzlement. However, as he has been in detention since May 2011, the courts may determine that he has now served his time.
Human rights activist Sherif Azer said that the authorities may find a way to keep him in prison as the repercussions of his release could involve more disorder and protest.
“It will not be a threat to Sisi but it could shake his regime. He has a lot to deal with – the economy, the Suez Canal project – he doesn’t need something like this coming from the past and haunting him.”
While the spectre of the 86-year-old former dictator may also loom large in the minds of many revolutionaries, many are also focusing on the future and trying to find new ways to resist under the current crackdown.
“Tahrir is a symbol for something that happened in 2011, but the revolution was not just in Tahrir and should not be limited to one way of opposing the system,” Said added.
But in the view of some political analysts,the tide of revolution had been stopped very early on.
“We are witnessing now the process of its reversal,” said Walid Kazziha, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “The question is will it succeed? And for how long?”
“I believe despite the re-emergence of Mubarak’s coercive state, Egyptian society, especially the younger generation of Egyptians, has experienced since 2011, the breakdown of the wall of fear, and the limited reach of the state in space and time.”