News / Middle East

Mubarak Trial - Plain Justice or Sweet Revenge?

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled into a holding cell in the court room in the police academy on the outskirt of the capital Cairo, where he faces murder charges, August 3, 2011
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled into a holding cell in the court room in the police academy on the outskirt of the capital Cairo, where he faces murder charges, August 3, 2011
Mohamed Elshinnawi

Barely a few months ago it seemed unthinkable that Hosni Mubarak, the president who ruled Egypt unchallenged for 30 years, would ever have to answer for crimes he allegedly committed. Yesterday, the Egyptian revolutionaries who toppled the autocratic ruler earlier this year got their day in court.

Judge Ahmed Refaat, the head of the Egyptian Criminal Court, charged Mubarak with conspiring to kill over 800 protesters and abusing power to amass wealth. The former president pleaded “not guilty.” “I totally deny all those charges,” said the former president.

If convicted of ordering his security forces to kill Egyptian demonstrators to prolong three decades of rule, Mubarak faces 15 years in prison or the death penalty. For abusing power to amass wealth by corrupt means, he and his two sons, who have been named co-defendants, face five- to 15-year sentences.

Burden of proof

But convicting Mubarak may prove challenging. Usama Saraya, former editor-in-chief of the semi-official Al Ahram newspaper and a Mubarak loyalist, argues that it is not clear who gave the orders to crush the protesters.  “It would not be difficult to prove that President Mubarak has not been criminally involved in killing those protesters if the trial maintained fairness,” Saraya said.

Saraya expects that calling such witnesses as Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi would prove that Mubarak is not guilty. He believes, if Tantawi tells the court what took place in the days leading up to Mubarak’s resignation, he will say Mubarak did not give the orders. Tantawi now presides over the ruling military council.

Shady Taha, the vice president of the liberal Al-Ghad Party, disagreed. “I think it will not help Mubarak. It will [work] against him. What we are hearing from the military is that they received orders from Mubarak to shoot the protesters but they did not obey those orders,” he said.

Trial as stepping Stone

No matter whether Mubarak will eventually be convicted or acquitted, some experts say simply putting him on trial is paramount to the revolution’s future.

Habib Nassar is the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York. For him, the trial is a necessity, but he stresses that it has to be a just trial.

“I do believe that in order to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy and the rule of law in Egypt, they need a justice approach not a revenge approach. If the Egyptian revolution wants to break […] with the past injustices, a fair trial and observing due process will be the first step toward democracy,” said Nassar.

Justice versus will of the people

No ruler of modern Egypt has ever been tried before the Egyptian people. Yesterday, Egyptians were able turn on their TV sets and see a once-untouchable president caged, lying flat on his back on a hospital gurney. For Usama Saraya, the former editor, it was an important and telling moment.

“As a person who was engaged in the political life under President Mubarak - whom I support - I was happy to see him in court because his appearance reflected his respect [for the] law and his courage, because he did not try to flee from Egypt or escape his leadership responsibilities.”

Still, Saraya believes that there exists a sharp divide on the Egyptian street over Mubarak’s trial, pointing out that the pitiful setting in which the former leader was observed could actually earn him sympathy and support.

Despite the courtroom drama, Shady Taha of the Al-Ghad Party says most Egyptians do want to see justice done.

“If you [talked to] family members of the young protestors that were killed on the 25th of January, you will not feel any sympathy [toward Mubarak], but putting all the feelings aside, we want to see a fair trial, and that is the position of the majority of the people,”  Taha said.

A warning for other autocrats?

While most revolutionaries in Egypt celebrate Mubarak facing justice, rulers in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East are certain to take heed. Samer Shehata, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, points out that, after all, Mubarak is the first Arab leader to stand a trial for crimes committed against his own people. That alone, says he, serves as a “terrible precedent for unaccountable dictators, kings and princes.”

Habib Nassar of the International Center for Transitional Justice says that while Mubarak’s trial sends a stern warning to other authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, it is imperative to ensure that Mubarak gets a trial that is fair and conducted according to international standards. Otherwise, he adds, other dictators in the region would be able to dismiss it as political revenge.

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

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs