News / Middle East

Egypt Mulls How Much Justice is Too Much

Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar (File Photo)
Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar (File Photo)
Elizabeth Arrott

As Egypt looks into alleged crimes by its former president and charges other former top officials with corruption and brutality, some are questioning how far the country should go in pursuing justice. 

Egypt's top cleric hurriedly issued a clarification this week after German media quoted him as saying former President Hosni Mubarak, now old and sick, had done much for his country, so mercy should prevail over justice. The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, says his words were distorted and stressed that, "no one is above the law."

The question of justice is very much on Egyptians' minds, but just how to apply the law is up for debate. The Mubarak family has  been interrogated, and the president's two sons are being held in prison.

But Said Sadek, a political sociologist at the American University in Cairo, says Egypt has rejected the models seen in such post-revolutionary states as Iran in 1979 and Romania a decade later.

"We do not have revolutionary tribunals because it will not be able to stop it once the wheel of the revolutionary violence rolls," he said. "It can catch up a lot of people and lead to more blood.  It is against the nature of the Egyptian people. You just remember that every revolution follows the culture of the people."

Egypt Mulls How Much Justice is Too Much
Egypt Mulls How Much Justice is Too Much

While Sadek argues that Egyptian society is a moderate one, he acknowledges the alleged crimes are severe: hundreds of people killed in the uprising earlier this year, untold numbers tortured in the government's prisons over the past thirty years and billions of dollars missing.

Hisham Kassem, a publisher who frequently ran afoul of the Mubarak system, argues justice can be found, especially in such concrete matters as stolen property, no small concern in a country where nearly half the people earn about two dollars a day.

"When we look deeper into the Mubarak practices, specifically on the corruption issue, it is not something where a pardon can be issued by anybody," said Kassem. "These are serious corruption charges and if they go by without accountability, it is not going to set a very good precedent for the future.

Suzanne Mubarak, wife of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (file photo)
Suzanne Mubarak, wife of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (file photo)

The president's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, was released from custody last week after promising to turn over millions of dollars worth of property and other assets. The Justice minister indicates that's as far as her case will go.

But public anger continues, fueled in part by both Mr. and Mrs. Mubarak pleading illness as a reason to postpone questioning -- a tactic professor Sadek compares to a student trying to get out of an exam, and says is equally unconvincing.

Despite some hints from officials that the former president could be shown leniency, the government, like the Grand Sheikh, has responded to a public outcry and said justice will be served.

Egyptian policemen line the street as an armored army vehicle guards a convoy carrying former Egyptian interior minister Habib el-Adly and his aides, as they arrive at the court in Cairo, May 21, 2011
Egyptian policemen line the street as an armored army vehicle guards a convoy carrying former Egyptian interior minister Habib el-Adly and his aides, as they arrive at the court in Cairo, May 21, 2011

Other leaders are also being pursued; a second trial of the former Interior Minister, Habib al Adly, already sentenced to 12 years in prison, got underway Saturday.

Adly's first trial was for corruption, but he was more widely despised for overseeing a security system where torture was widespread and, during the recent uprising, was blamed for killing protesters.

That implicates a far broader group of people, the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who applied the former government's injustice.

Democracy advocate Kassem argues for a nationwide approach, as seen in post-apartheid South Africa, to come to terms with the trauma.

"The application of a truth and reconciliation model a la South Africa is a necessity because the practices have been grave and have extended over 30 years," he said. "It is, practically, not possible to hold everybody accountable.

"But then the matter cannot be just brushed past as if it has never happened," continued Kassem. "So, in lots of cases people would need to at least admit guilt before they can be pardoned and move on,"

American University in Cairo's Sadek disagrees, calling for the court trials of those who carried out the dictates of a police state - in part to prevent another police state in the future.

In the first such case, a policeman Saturday was sentenced to death for killing 20 protesters earlier this year. Sadek says reconciliation should be an option, but would leave it up to the victims and their families to decide.

"Any victim once he gets his right and there is acknowledgment by the court that his rights have been abused, they are the only people in the world who are entitled to decide whether they give it up or, you know, forgive the guy or not," said Sadek. "If somebody has been killed, how can we tell them, please forgive the guy who killed your son or your daughter."

As Egypt decides how to deal with its past and plots its path forward, others in the region are paying close attention. According to Hisham Kassem, for leaders in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere that governments face uprisings, the idea of not only having to leave office, but be punished for their rule, is adding another layer of fear.

The Gulf is terrified by what is happening," said Kassem. "They are very annoyed at the fact that Mubarak and family are being put on trial. Across 22 Arab counties, it is sending a chilling message and they find it extremely disturbing because it could start encouraging people, putting ideas in their heads across the region."

Sadek agrees, adding that the trials may embolden the leaders to fight to the end. But even without trials, he says the uprisings, at least in Egypt, have already provided a certain sense of justice.

"What is stronger than the legal trial of Mubarak is the political and moral trial of the Mubaraks," he said. "They have been totally killed morally and politically. They lost all their legitimacy, [there is] no respect."

In Sadek's view, for once all-powerful rulers, that may be more painful than a death sentence.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Surveillance of Phones, Internet

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid