A Cairo criminal court dropped charges Saturday against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for responsibility in the killing of protesters in the January 2011 uprising.
The judge said he would drop the murder case against Mubarak because the prosecution's earlier decision on 23 March 2011 to charge the 86-year-old lacked the legal basis to bring a criminal case against the ousted president.
The judge also ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on the charges against Mubarak, his two sons and businessman Hussein Salem on charges of profiteering from illegal gifts of villas.
In addition, Mubarak was acquitted of charges of collaborating with his minister of petroleum to profit from Hussein Salem's company by giving Salem the rights to export Egyptian natural gas to Israel at below market rates.
Salem was also acquitted of the charges.
Former Interior Minister Habib El-Adly along with his six aides were acquitted of charges of murder and attempted murder related to the killing of protesters in January 2011.
Mubarak and El-Adly were initially found guilty in June 2012 of responsibility for the killing of protesters and sentenced to life imprisonment. The initial verdict was appealed successfully and a retrial began in April 2013. Alaa and Gamal were defendants in the trial, but only faced corruption charges.
Despite being acquitted on Saturday, Mubarak and his two sons are still facing separate three-year prison terms for embezzlement of public funds.
The prosecution has said that it would appeal the verdict.
The 86-year-old former president who ruled for 30 years has spent much of his detention at a military hospital on the southern outskirts of Cairo.
El-Adly will also remain jailed. He was convicted on separate corruption charges, for which he now serves a seven-year jail sentence.
Salem was tried in absentia.
Verdict hailed by some
Dozens of Mubarak supporters hailed the verdict, waving pictures of the former president outside the courtroom where the verdict was issued, while the defence camp was jubilant.
El-Adly's lawyer, Essam El-Battawy, told CBC satellite channel that although his client will remain in prison on other charges he is optimistic he will soon be found completely innocent.
El-Adly has only one case ongoing and it is being appealed, his lawyer said. The remaining case, known in the Egyptian media as the "licence plates case," involves a government contract awarded to a German company to provide licence plates for vehicles at inflated prices.
El-Adly was acquitted of other corruption charges in previous cases, and was acquitted Saturday of responsibility for the killing of protesters in 2011, explained El-Battawy.
Speaking to Egyptian radio from Spain after the verdict was business tycoon Hussein Salem, who was acquitted of corruption in the Saturday verdict. Salem, who has been abroad since the 2011 uprising, said he would return as soon as possible.
"Tahya misr (long live Egypt)!" he said during his interview, repeating the patriotic slogan that is often deployed by supporters of the military.
Talking to Ahram Online, the deputy head of the Conference Party, Salah Hasaballah, defended the verdict, saying that Mubarak had given a lot to Egypt during his presidency.
Regardless of what the verdict had been, Hasaballah said that “Egyptians are more concerned with the political future of their country than with the past."
“After two revolutions and after a new elected president, our priorities are to focus on how to build the new Egypt.”
The Conference Party was founded last year by Mubarak-era foreign minister Amr Moussa.
Political backlash unlikely
Political analyst Mohamed El-Agaty of the Arab Forum for Alternatives think-tank told Ahram Online that he expects that the political backlash to the verdict to be small and to pass quickly.
El-Agaty argued that the state and media have been propagating a state of "panic" that will not allow for any mobilisation against the verdict.
Similarly, April 6 Youth Movement member Zizo Abdo also believes that the media has had an effect on public attitudes to the case making it unlikely people will object.
“I don’t believe that Egyptians will react against the verdict after the media has spent more than three years making propaganda against the revolution…saying it serves foreign agendas," he told Ahram Online, adding that he believed security forces would not allow people to mobilise against the verdict anyway.
He added that the "revolutionary movement" in Egypt is not strong enough at present to mobilise a reaction to the verdict.
“In light of the oppression of the security forces on any protests or political movements, I will not rely at this phase on the revolutionary movements [for protesting the verdict]; especially as security forces are supported by a majority of Egyptians,” said Abdo.
Security forces reportedly closed off Tahrir Square on Saturday afternoon, in anticipation of possible protests. Demonstrations are outlawed in Egypt, unless prior permission has been given by the interior ministry.
Trial, legal system citicised
Political analyst El-Agaty further argued that the case's verdict was to a large extent expected because of the legal elements of the case.
"It was also clear from the start that this case will go nowhere…there are no proper laws to fight corruption…you can’t put them [former regime figures] on trial using their own laws," he stated, adding that the legislation currently used to try figures from the former regime were mostly instated by them.
Head of the liberal Constitution Party, Hala Shukrallah, told Ahram Online that the problem is to a large extent the legal system, which lacks the right legislation to try cases involving corruption and mass killings.
"We (political parties) need to focus on changing the laws," she said.
Local rights watchdog the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) labelled the verdict “disappointing” and said it would "further entrench impunity for gross human rights violations committed by security forces, yet again absolved of responsibility for killing, injuring and torturing protesters."
In a statement released Saturday the rights body criticised the trial process, citing a failure by judicial authorities to address “deep flaws in the original trial.”
“Initial proceedings were marred by shortcomings ranging from the public prosecution's inadequate investigations, to the court's disregard of victims' lawyers motions to consider new evidence, to the judges' decision to ignore over a thousand witness accounts and audiovisual and other material evidence demonstrating police involvement in the killings," the statement read.
EIPR also echoed concerns about the way the Egyptian justice system handles such cases, stating that the acquittals “expose deep flaws in the Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedures entrusting evidence-gathering to police even in cases of alleged police abuse, allowing them to tamper with the evidence or withhold it to escape accountability.”
“Without having independent bodies investigating cases of police brutality, justice cannot be achieved," it added.
The statement drew a contrast between Saturday’s verdicts with the guilty verdicts handed down in the “Matay” case, when 37 defendants were sentenced to death and 491 to life in prison on charges of killing a single police officer in August 2013. According to EIPR, the judge in that case argued that criminal intent to kill any member of the police forces and the defendant’s presence at the crime scene was sufficient evidence to convict the defendants of murder or attempted murder.
Return of the old regime?
In addition to legal barriers that prevent such political figures from being convicted, Shukrallah said that she believes politically Egypt "is going back to how things were before the January 25 revolution."
"The old political order is being reinstated…even the figures of the old regime are resurfacing," she said.
Lawyer Amir Salem also argued that the verdict was a political statement, described the sentence as one that "acquits the former regime as a whole."
He told Ahram Online that the presiding judge's argument in the case was that he could not hold either Mubarak or El-Adly accountable for killing protesters after all the police officers under their command had been earlier found innocent and policemen have been systematically released since the January 2011 revolution.
"This verdict washes the hands of the former regime completely," he said.
Amr Darrag, a former minister in Mohamed Morsi’s government and a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure also stressed that the verdict was a political one, writing on Twitter in Arabic that "no real trial can take place under the current circumstances. A real trial can only be achieved when the people's will prevails and they reclaim the revolution."
Hosni Mubarak was removed from power following the 2011 revolution. During the first 18 days of protests, around 840 protesters were killed and more than 6,000 injured.