‘Mubarak is no longer the story’

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 29 Nov 2014

Whatever today’s court verdict in the trial of Hosni Mubarak, his fate is no longer significant for Egypt's future, argue foreign diplomats

anti-mubarak protester
A man burns a picture of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during a rally after Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Friday, July 1, 2011. (Photo: AP)

It is with significantly less interest than before that foreign embassies in Egypt await the expected final court verdict to be issued today on the charge levelled against former president Hosni Mubarak that he ordered — and/or turned a blind eye to — the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the early days of the January 25 Revolution.

Coming weeks before the fourth anniversary of the 2011 revolution, which was widely glorified and is now subject to scepticism, the verdict could be anything from full acquittal (something that an aide to the defendant’s attorney says “is possible”) to either affirmation of the life sentence issued two years ago, or a reduction of that sentence. One other possibility, which many find least likely, is for the judge to request the reinvestigation of the case, upon accusations levelled by the defence that the killing of demonstrators was orchestrated and executed by a non-official body.

“It could be any of the above. But at the end of the day, does it really matter … I mean do you think that if Mubarak was to be acquitted there would be massive demonstrations in [Egypt’s] cities demanding a retrial or protesting the verdict?” asked a Western ambassador who has been in the country for three years.

According to this ambassador,observations he said are shared by Cairo-based counterparts of most influential world capitals, “Mubarak is no longer seen by the vast majority (of Egyptians) as ‘the enemy’; he might still be very resented for one reason or the other, but he is no longer the enemy. The enemy now is the Muslim Brotherhood.”

On the eve of the expected court verdict, which could be deferred if the judge chooses, another Western ambassador argued that his attempt to make a round of calls during the past week to get “a feel of how things could go” were met with abrupt replies on the matter and more speculation on the call by Islamists for a day of demonstrations 28 November.

The persons approached by this ambassador were not just from government quarters but also from the “secular opposition.”

“I think, yes, you could well argue that not so many people care about the fate of Mubarak today. I was here when the verdict was issued the first time. I had just arrived to Egypt and it was a different feel altogether,” he said.

While sharing the “change of enemy theory,” this ambassador added another read: scepticism over the January 25 Revolution.

“I was not here when it happened, but I was told by my predecessor that it was almost a taboo, especially for talk-shows. Now it is very common to find anchors openly saying that 25 January was a ‘conspiracy that [the West] plotted,’” added the Arabic-speaking ambassador.

For many foreign, Western and international diplomats who spoke to Ahram Online in the past few days, it is unlikely that a not guilty verdict against Mubarak — if issued today, 29 November — would cause a big backlash as it might have done prior to the ouster of Morsi. In fact, some said that they suspect that such a verdict could be “easily sold” on basis of “things like old age, illness, etc.”

“How many people do you think would take to the streets if Mubarak was to found not guilty?” a Cairo-based foreign diplomat asked rhetorically. She added: “Do you think the state would use the protest law to arrest them, or do you think that it would let them demonstrate and go home?”

Islamists — particularly the Muslim Brotherhood — would be clearly offended given that Mohamed Morsi, the first post 25-January elected and then ousted president, is in jail with the rest of the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. “But, of course, we all know very well how security would react to any show of anger on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the same diplomat said.

According to this diplomat, if the release of Ahmed Ezz — a key business tycoon and political magnate under the rule of Mubarak — prompted “no serious anger,” it would be safe to expect that a leaner sentence, or even a not guilty verdict, for Mubarak would not cause the regime much of a headache.

“I have personally heard some people in the business community saying it was unfair to have had Ahmed Ezz arrested and that he is a good entrepreneur. I have heard people in the political parties saying that Mubarak was a good man who made a few mistakes,” said another Cairo-based foreign diplomat.

He added: “Well, when you really think about it, the entire ruling regime now comes from the close circle of Mubarak.”

A particularly clear indication of lessened resentment to Mubarak, and consequently lowered chances of an acquittal having much influence on the political scene in Egypt, is the choice of Fayza Abul-Naga, a former Mubarak minister, as national security advisor to the president (who was himself head of military intelligence under Mubarak).

For some of the older serving foreign diplomats have said this would not have been possible when there was strong anti-Mubarak sentiment.

“These would have been the kind of choices that would have prompted demonstrations before. I am told that the mere nomination of a former prominent ambassador under Mubarak for a ministerial job — or for an overseas posting to one of the big capitals — was simply impossible. Obviously, this is no longer the case,” commented another foreign diplomat.

In the analysis of many diplomats, “Mubarak is something of the past — with the good and the bad.” Today, they add, Egyptians for the most part wants to move on — they are tired of instability and of economic challenges. They are not as committed to the January 25 Revolution as they once were, and are willing to forgo some freedoms that they had so firmly demanded before.

The final outcome of the Mubarak trial is unlikely, either, to have a significant impact on the stock market. Nor would it be expected to prompt the state to take any serious extraordinary measures.

The one thing an acquittal could do, in the analysis of some diplomats, is strengthen a more upfront attempt of the network of the defunct, previously Mubarak-chaired, National Democratic Party to contest seats in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

Confirmation of Mubarak’s sentence, on the other hand, may not be helpful for the same purpose.

According to one Arab diplomat, an acquittal of Mubarak — previously demanded by some Gulf capitals in return for generous financial aid to Egypt — could induce further Gulf generosity, though perhaps not as much as earlier.

“Had it happened before it would have been a different story,” he said.

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