Egyptian protesters clashed with police in central Cairo after a court dropped charges against former President Hosni Mubarak for killing civilians during the Arab Spring uprising that ended his three-decade rule.
Presiding Judge Mahmoud El-Rashidy yesterday also found the former president not guilty in a corruption case linked to the sale of natural gas to Israel. The court also acquitted former Interior Minister Habib El-Adli for his role in the deaths of the protesters in 2011.
The verdicts were criticized by activists who have complained that the election of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has allowed the reincarnation of Mubarak’s regime. Police clashed with protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square late yesterday, killing one person and arresting about 70, including journalists, al-Jazeera television reported.
The rulings came after an earlier life sentence imposed on Mubarak for the protester deaths was overturned. The 86-year-old was deposed during the Arab Spring revolts three years ago that began in Tunisia and caused violent upheaval in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
Mubarak may not be freed immediately as he’s serving a three-year sentence imposed in May after being convicted of embezzling public funds.
“Since 2011, the official state narrative viewed the 25th of January as a revolution, which was against Mubarak and the system over which he presided,” H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, said by phone today. “With this verdict, it becomes even harder for that narrative to hold.”
On trial with Mubarak were his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as six of El-Adli’s top aides and businessman Hussein Salem, who was tried in absentia. All were acquitted of the various criminal charges against them. The verdict can be appealed, Yasser Sayed Ahmed, attorney for those killed during the uprising, said by phone.
Mubarak’s trial represented, for activists and opposition figures, the possibility of a return to justice in Egypt after years of official corruption. The acquittals, whether outright or through technicalities as in the case of Mubarak, feed into the perception that little has changed nearly four years after his ouster, according to Wael Eskandar, who took part in the 2011 uprising.
“The verdict will be the grand finale of a long process of injustice, and evidence that the current regime is just an extension of Mubarak’s,” Eskandar said from Cairo before today’s ruling. “It’s not a verdict that would move the street now given the general mood of hopelessness and the crackdown on opposition. But it’s significant in that it’s very symbolic of where we are right now.”
Many of the concerns voiced by activists about the re-emergence of a police state are linked to a crackdown against Islamists and the subsequent targeting of any opposition by El-Sisi’s government. The 60-year-old leader, a former defense chief, has waged an assault on the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in the months since he led the July 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, who was elected after Mubarak.
Advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, contend El-Sisi’s government is curbing freedoms in the name of combating terrorist groups, after branding the Brotherhood one. Security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood members and supporters over the past year, arrested and charged thousands more and are in the midst of an offensive in the restive north Sinai after militant attacks against troops there.
Source: Bloomberg / Nov. 29, 2014