What does the Mubarak verdict mean for Egypt's political scene?

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 29 Nov 2014

Egyptian ousted president Hosni Mubarak (Photo: Reuters)

Hours after the government threatened to use live ammunition to deter Islamist demonstrations, a criminal court dropped charges against president Hosni Mubarak of killing demonstrators during the 25 January revolution.

The dropping of charges, which came after the recent acquittal of former Mubarak political figures including business tycoon Ahmed Ezz, was expected by many legal experts in view of the lack of prosecution evidence directly implicating the ousted president and his security aides, who was also charged in the case.

It does, however, prompt questions about a number of issues, at the heart of which is the role of police in managing politics and the possible rapprochement, or lack thereof, between the new regime, which is headed by Mubarak’s last head of military intelligence, and the former political network of the acquitted president.

Political scientist Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, who was close to the Mubarak regime towards the end of Mubarak’s presidency, is convinced that the implication of the acquittal is a mixture of rapprochement and divorce.

“I think it will make the police forces feel more comfortable and more confident about the lack of possible legal repercussions for executing commands to use force against demonstrators who aim to violate the protest law, whether we like it or not, or to undermine the state,” Abdel-Gawwad said.

“The sense of hesitation that marked the performance of the police since the end of the January 2011 Revolution and the arrest of all top figures of the ministry of interior should now come to an end.”

Whether or not the end of this assumed hesitation will bring about a more aggressive or simply more effective police, Abdel-Gawwad argued, is something that will be decided by the political will of the ruling regime.

The reading of this is widely contested by the revolutionary camp – small and isolated as it might be at present – and those who support the government of current President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The former are clearly frustrated by the parallel between the acquittal of Mubarak and his top aides and the arrest of some key revolutionary figures. They are also pessimistic about what they fear will be increased repression.

Leftist political figure Wael Khalil is among those who share this view. While applying caution and arguing that “we need time to get a good read of how this verdict transpires on the ground,” Khalil is not at all uncertain about the message that this verdict sends when it comes to using force against demonstrators.

Abdel-Gawwad disagrees. The verdict, which he insists is not particularly influenced by the political will of the current regime, will not necessarily prompt the interior ministry leadership to go too far in using force “because when all is said and done it has been proven that excessive use of force does not serve the interests of a ruling regime.”

An equally central political debate prompted by Saturday’s verdict relates to the fate of prominent figures associated with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

For some, this verdict empowers attempts already put into motion by some NDP figures to reach out to their bases and to seek the majority of seats in the next parliament. Elections may take place either in the first quarter of 2015, as recently promised by state officials, or later.

Sources close to the NDP tycoon Ahmed Ezz had already been speaking of the extensive efforts that Ezz is undertaking to reassemble the NDP network, with an eye on some two-thirds of the next parliament’s seats. Some of those discussing this issue say that the current government supports his efforts, while others say they do not.

And while speculations have been high as to who is supporting Ezz’s political moves, the business tycoon himself had been on the record as saying that he has no intention of running as an MP.

Bassem Yassa, a political activist, is of the opinion that Saturday’s verdict should not be interpreted as an unconditional vote of confidence from the executive for the entire clique of the NDP.

The ruling regime, he argued, should not necessarily be seen as the power behind the verdict, which he said was in fact “expected all the way through due to legal reasons”.

“In any case one cannot force a link between the regime of [Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi and the Mubarak clique.”

Yassa is also “fully convinced that no matter the support that El-Sisi has, there is no way that this support will be expanded to the NDP figures.”

According to Abdel-Gawwad, “those from the NDP who stood a chance in the next legislative elections are essentially the notables of the big families in the rural areas who always work with the government, regardless of who is in office, and those services rather than politics-oriented MPs who can always appeal to their constituencies.”

Abdel-Gawwad suggested that it is an open secret that those in office today never had much appreciation for Ezz or for that matter for Mubarak’s younger son, Gamal, or any of his associates.

“Those people have no political viability; they have no popularity and they are not liked by the regime so there is no way to imagine them having any role in the future; they got acquitted and they will go home to mind their business and if they don’t do so, I am inclined to think that they would be asked to very openly,”Abdel-Gawwad argued.

According to Abdel-Gawwad there is “a clear defining line between where the current regime stands on the revolutionary approach as a tool for inducing change and where it stands on the figures from the last few years of the Mubarak regime.”

A more complicated question raised by Saturday’s ruling is the fate of the groups that ushered in the 2011 revolution.

According to Khalil, “there might be a phase of depression before the political forces decide to rethink and reconceptualise their options and choices.”

Nadine Abdullah, a political researcher, believes there is one direct implication from the verdict, especially the failure to convict on charges related to the killing of demonstrators. She says there will be “more anger – it might be subdued, at least for now, but it will surely be increased,” arguing that it will definitely express itself but she is unclear about how and when.

Abdullah also argues that “even with this verdict” political Islamists are not likely to find back their way back into the larger pro-revolution camp.

She is also not sure whether the mass of workers, the only bloc that is still protesting in large groups for socio-economic rights, is willing to join the angry revolutionary youth for a next step.

“If the regime accommodates the socio-economic demands of the workers, it is unlikely that they will follow any future show of anger by the revolutionary forces, but if the regime fails to do so then it would be encouraging an association between the masses of labourers and the revolutionary youth.”

An official source meanwhile told Ahram Online that the acquittal of Mubarak and his top security aides is simply “closing a file of a page that had already been turned.”

“None of those acquitted today will have a public role; they will simply retire after not being found guilty by a court of law – for whatever legal reasons, and if no appeal is initiated by the prosecution,” he said.

As for the role of the police and the former members of the NDP, the same source commented: “we have laws to observe; the police will fulfill their duties in line with legal regulations, and the members of the NDP who are not found guilty of any charges and wish to run for the next parliamentary elections can offer themselves to the public, and it is the people who would decide”.

The official source declined to answer any question about the possible financial implication of the acquittal of Mubarak – which was an implicit wish of a number of Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have been key financial backers of Egypt since the ouster of Morsi.

“I reject the implication of this question; it suggests that the judiciary is not independent or that the presidency is going for a trade-off; I completely reject this,” he stated.

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