Cairo Erupts as Mubarak, Adly Declared Innocent in Deaths of Protesters

By Juan Cole | —

An Egyptian court on Saturday found found deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister Habib Adly not guilty (or rather just dropped the charges) the killing of nearly 900 young protesters by police in January-February 2011.

Downtown Cairo and some provincial towns erupted in protests. Indeed, these were probably the largest protests since the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in August, 2013. The police had closed off Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, but demonstrators gathered in the thousands in an open space nearby, near the Egyptian Museum. They chanted that the people want the fall of the regime, and denounced the ruling as corrupt. Egyptian police sources maintain that the protests were peaceful until about 6pm, when, they allege, Muslim Brotherhood fifth columnists infiltrated the protests and began turning violent. Two protesters were killed and 11 injured, mainly through severe inhalation of tear gas or being hit by they tear gas canisters. I doubt the Muslim Brotherhood story. Most of the protesters on Saturday were probably leftist youth. The religious fundamentalists had tried to get up demonstrations on Friday, but very few protesters showed up, and the leftist youth boycotted the action, which slammed “secular” government in Egypt.

The bad thing about this ruling is that the judge actually argued that the charges should never have been brought against a former president for actions undertaken as part of his office. Egyptian judges still think that worshiping power is more important than holding officials accountable for crimes. Contrast this attitude to that in France, where police raided the home of former president Nicholas Sarkozy on suspicion that he had taken illicit money for his campaign. To be fair, the Egyptian attitude is more like that of Americans. President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, and Nancy Pelosi pledged that there would be no action against Bush and Cheney for their illegal war.

(For background see The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

So the verdict is a step away from the principle of the accountability of public officials– precisely one of the principles young people sought to establish by their youth revolutions in 2011 and after.

On the other hand, I do have to admit that the original verdict against Mubarak was jurisprudentially very problematic. The judge argued that since Mubarak surely had had the authority to stop the killings of protesters (leaving aside the question of whether he ordered the deaths, for which there is no documentary proof), he was guilty for not having intervened to stop excessive police use of force. This is more like a logical deduction than a judicial finding.

Still, the grounds for this acquittal are equally if not more problematic. It wasn’t an official duty of Hosni Mubarak when president to have protesters killed. He therefore can’t have the immunity of simply doing his job. And it sends a very bad signal throughout the region to authoritarian rulers that they now again don’t have to worry about accountability (Egypt is a fourth of the Arab world and an opinion leader).

It is a little unlikely that the return of protests will last very long. Most Egyptians seem shell-shocked by the changes of the past 3 1/2 years, and are tired and cautious. The military government has been handing out long jail sentences merely for engaging in peaceful street protests. It is therefore hard to mobilize people at the moment, though it could happen again down the road.

The only silver lining of the current situation is that the old Mubarak political and financial elite, the fulul or left-overs, are being reincorporated into public life. Those who committed criminal acts should not be rehabilitated, of course. But South Africa dealt with former regime elements by having them confess in detail to their crimes, after which they were released. What’s wrong here is that Mubarak and his gang are still unwilling to confess. For left-overs who had not been guilty of committing any obvious crimes, it is probably healthier to have them come back into public life than be excluded and sullen (the wealthy are in a position to make a lot of trouble). One big difference between so far relatively stable Tunisia and unstable Libya is that after the first two years, members of the party of former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were allowed to come back into politics in 2014. In Libya, as in Iraq, the old elite was excluded and stigmatized, and instability ensued. In Egypt there is the wrinkle that the secondary elite, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been more thoroughly excluded from public life than the fulul ever were. Human Rights Watch pointed out that there are Aljazeera and other journalists in jail in Egypt for just doing their jobs, and Mubarak has been acquitted of killing people.

The progressive youth are weeping tears of helpless rage today, as one of the achievements of their revolution– making public officials accountable– has inexorably slipped away. Liberal parties like the Wafd are also upset. The Egyptian judiciary, once a trendsetter for the Arab world, is increasingly making itself a laughingstock.

—-

related video:

Ruptly TV: “Egypt: Tahrir Square breaks out in CLASHES after Hosni Mubarak acquitted”

12 Responses

  1. The bad thing about this ruling is that the judge actually argued that the charges should never have been brought against a former president for actions undertaken as part of his office.

    Like grand juries in the US: “The Secret Darkness of Grand Juries: A Broken System” by LAUREN C. REGAN – link to counterpunch.org

    The Egyptian judiciary, once a trendsetter for the Arab world, is increasingly making itself a laughingstock.

    Like its neighbor to the north or main supplier of military weapons? Not really. There is nothing funny about that pair.

  2. The Egyptian judiciary, once a trendsetter for the Arab world, is increasingly making itself a laughingstock.

    Other than the Nuremberg Trials after WWII, has there ever been a time in American history when the American justice system was an example for the world to follow? There was much to admire that came out of Nuremberg, but even there American justice was flawed because it was victors’ justice. Allied lawyers, somewhat naively, proposed a long list of charges to lay against the Nazis, but many items in that list were redacted by Washington and London because the US and Brits (and the Russians) were guilty of the same crimes.

  3. That protestors were killed in Egypt is unfortunate. But, Mubarak has not been in power for some time. The present protests are more on the road to the Great Terror than some notion of democracy. The protestors want revenge. It is hard to envision democracy emerging from such. As for wanting to prosecute heads of state, there is actually legal basis for the Egyptian judges announcement. The value judgments of this article go a bit far (on this basis) and seem more like propaganda than critical commentary.

    Persons acting as Heads of State are generally individually exempted from personal prosecution for actions such as this.
    The Nuremberg trials mentioned by another commenter have nothing to do with the American Justice System. That was a military tribunal of the Allied Forces–military justice–its a different apple. Military law has been the general case when former leaders have been tried for war crimes (usually). Nixon was impeached. He did not escape justice. He resigned when the outcome became inevitable He was only pardoned from personal prosecution by Ford which would not have happened or, if charges had been filed, it would not have gone any further than what just happened in Egypt. Saddam Hussein made the same arguments–that he acted as Head of State in defense of country and people, but lost. However, while this was technically an Iraqi court, the Iraqi Court was at the graces of the military or occupation forces–indeed another military tribunal.

    There is hardly any precedent for trying a former Head of State in a civilian court for actions carried out or contemplated as Head of State. The exceptions are the “regicide” of Charles I of England and the Great Terror of the Guillotine in France.

    The other comparison made in the article –raiding Sarkozy’s home for evidence of illegal campaign funds raising is also a poor comparison. Many politicians have been charged and fined by the FEC who has seized records as part of their prosecution.

    • “There is hardly any precedent for trying a former Head of State in a civilian court for actions carried out or contemplated as Head of State”

      Former leaders convicted for actions taken while they ruled:

      Minister-president of Norway: Vidkun Quisling
      President of Peru: Alberto Fujimori
      Dictator of Argentina: Jorge Rafael Videla
      President of Ecuador: Jamil Mahuad
      President of Dominican Republic: Salvador Jorge Blanco
      PM of Italy: Silvio Berlusconi
      President of Egypt: Mohammed Morsi
      PM of Georgia: Ivane Merabishvili
      PM of Ukraine: Yulia Tymoshenko
      President of South Korea: Chun Doo-hwan
      President of South Korea: Roh Tae-woo

      And that was me hardly trying.

      Like shooting fish in a barrel

      • Hardly heads of state, but let’s not forget the continuing parade of former Illionois governers. It is almost an automatic ticket to the bighouse.

    • The Nuremberg trials mentioned by another commenter have nothing to do with the American Justice System. That was a military tribunal of the Allied Forces–military justice–its a different apple.

      Nuremberg had a military component, but to say it was a military tribunal is stretching a point. The judges and others were civilians. The “American Justice System” – whatever that is – was a factor through the agency of Justice Robert Jackson, one of several civilians who were important factors throughout the early and major trials.

    • You mention Saadam Hussein and the kangaroo court that tried and swiftly punished him with the equivalent of “victor’s justice” in Iraq, too. I’d like to point out that Iraq was under American occupation at the time, and that American occupiers colluded with the Iraqis in trying Saadam Hussein too quickly, and without a truly scrupulous investigation. Why do you suppose that was? I’d like to propose to you that it was because the American CIA knew that Saadam Hussein would have much to squeal about were he in the defendant’s box in the Hague about his truly extensive collusion with American governments to massacre Iranians, and act as the Americans’ and Saudis’ proxies in conducting a truly genocidal war against the mullahs’ regime in Iran. By the same token, Hosni Mubarak, if put through a state trial in Egypt, in front of even the remnant of a legitimate press that still survives in Egypt, would have much to tell about his collusion with various American executives to support Zionism in the region and to suppress the Islamist democracy that the Egyptians first voted for. The General Sisi who presently governs Egypt is also in the thrall of the American security establishment, which he doesn’t want Egyptians to know about, and he certainly wouldn’t want a full-blown public trial of the former CIA stooge, who could tell as many tales as Saadam Hussein could have, about “cooperation” with the American empire. Expect Mubarak and his degenerate relatives to now decamp to an American or Swiss watering hole, with the help of his old friends in the American CIA who’ve been yelling now for a couple of years about the Obama regime’s “betrayal” of a “friend.”

    • The first former head of state to be tried and convicted of genocide in a domestic court was Rios Montt in May 2013 in Guatemala. The conviction was latter overturned. The precedent has been set .

    • So, jewelia, what you are saying is that what might be called “the immunity of impunity” is a universal principle and practice, with hardly a cognizable exception to prove the rule? Maybe that’s the only way that “Big Game Big Politics” will ever be played? Sad.

  4. The only instance of a democratically elected head of state being tried, convicted of human rights abuses in his own country was Fujimori. In Peru. May we live to see the day that General Sisi is locked up for the massacres he’s responsible for. Fujimori was hugely popular, even when on trial. Nonetheless, justice caught up with him.

Comments are closed.