Three years on, Egyptians divided on Hosni Mubarak retrial

Lamia Hassan, Wednesday 13 Aug 2014

With the former autocrat set to address the court at his retrial for killing protesters during the January 25 uprising, Ahram Online looks at how his reputation has evolved since his deposition

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

While ousted president Hosni Mubarak, his two sons, former minister of interior Habib El-Adly and six of his aides stand in front of the court again in their retrial for complicity in the killing of almost 850 unarmed protested during the 2011 uprising, tracking the trial over the past three years indicates a change in the perception of Mubarak and his role in Egypt's crisis.

What started as one of the most important events in 2011 following the uprising, then became less appealing to the public, with a shift of views towards Mubarak.

Three years after the beginning of what is known as the 'Trial of the Century', politicians, as well as the public, are torn between blaming Mubarak's reign as be the main cause of what Egypt is suffering from now and on the other side that he might be responsible for some of the problems, but should not be held accountable for everything, given that there is "a bigger enemy and a bigger threat to the country."

As Mubarak addresses the court today from behind the cage, a request granted by the judge, politicians still argue whether Mubarak is the bad guy or the good guy, or at least not the villain but should pay for the debts of his reign.

Gamal Eid, a prominent Egyptian activist and lawyer for the martyrs' families in Mubarak's trial, commenting on what the defendants said in the retrial, says there is a change in the perception of Mubarak and the trial because there is no will to take the trial seriously.

“What the murderers are saying is logical, but the question is is there really the political will to hold those responsible for the killing accountable and defend the revolution?” he says. “My view here is that there is no [political will].”

Fady Iskander, Nasserist activist and member of the Egyptian Popular Current, says there is definitely a bigger force and terrorist attacks by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they should be all tried for it, but still Mubarak should be held accountable for what he has done, starting from what happened during his reign and ending at the 2011 uprising and the killing of protesters, including events like the Battle of the Camel and the snipers targeting protesters.

“Mubarak ruled us for 30 years, and the Muslim Brotherhood also formed and strengthened their movement during his reign,” says Iskander. “They should both be tried for what they have done.”

Iskander also explains that Mubarak's rule suppressed any movement or any opposition to the regime which may have resulted in the chaos in the political scene now, blaming him for the consequences of his rule.

“Everything that happened in 2011 is documented and people are aware of it, but it seems we just have a short memory and we sympathise with Mubarak because of his age,” says Iskandar. “Honestly speaking, he deserves the death sentence.”

On the other hand, Mahmoud Nafady, journalist and former member of Mubarak's ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), says Mubarak is not a saint and yes he made mistakes, but he is not the enemy.

“There isn't a single president that all the people agreed on, and Mubarak is not a prophet and definitely he made mistakes, but people are now keener towards him and his trial after they saw how things could be worse during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Nafady.

Nafady explains that Mubarak's trial went through two phases, one started with the 2011 uprising that toppled him and resulted in a grudge towards him from the public that ended or became less strong following the 30 June uprising, which he attributes to the public finding the hidden truths and understanding that there is a bigger threat to the country than Mubarak.

“People are not very concerned with the trial now and they are showing more sympathy towards him,” he says.

On the other hand, Nafady says there is still a political movement against Mubarak that calls for him to be held accountable, but he says there is also a group of people who use the Mubarak trial card every now and then just for their own agenda.

While Nafady says Mubarak is no villain, George Ishaq, a political activist and founding member of the anti-Mubarak Kefaya movement, says Mubarak is a criminal and blames him for everything that is happening in Egypt now.

“He is a criminal, he and his men, and should be held accountable for everything,” says Ishaq. “And, his men who are saying that they didn't give any orders to the police to kill the protesters, they can watch the videos, everything is documented even if they try to distort the truth.”

Founded in 2004, Kefaya (Enough), or the Egyptian Movement for Change, was considered the starting point for protests against Mubarak's rule and grew from there to what became a bigger force in 2011 in the uprising that toppled Mubarak and his regime.

“We will wait and see how the trial will go, but I personally trust the General Prosecution and we will see what the judiciary will have to say in this case,” says Ishaq.

On a different level, Said Sadek, political sociologist and professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC), says the media has a huge role in the change in perception of Mubarak.

“Private Egyptian media in Egypt are the dominant public opinion former and they are owned by figures close to the old regime and polishing the image of Mubarak the head of the old regime was important and a target in the agenda setting of these media,” says Sadek.

Sadek says that extensive coverage of Mubarak's ailing health and advanced age, as well as his historical role in the October 1973 War, has helped in polishing Mubarak's image and made more people sympathise with him, and says that at the same time the same media defamed the January 25 uprising and those behind it.

“These media manipulations made Mubarak viewed in a more balanced way than before,” says Sadek. “The image and reputation of January 25 is now negative and considered a CIA conspiracy to redraw the map of the Middle East. Where are the participants in the January 25 revolution today? The founders of the April 6 Movement for instance are [in] jail.”

From a security point of view, Omar El-Taher, former police general and former MP and a member of the national security committee during Mubarak's rule, says Mubarak is responsible for the merger of capitalism and power during his reign that lead to frustration and the huge gap between rich and poor that ended up with an uprising in 2011, but then this revolution was hijacked and the forces behind it are still a huge threat to the country and the Arab World, even after the revolution was put back on the right track after electing General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as president of Egypt.

Back to the retrial, while the trial is not as important to the public as it was in 2011, politicians are still arguing whether Mubarak is still Egypt's problem or not and who to blame for Egypt's crisis.

“People are less concerned with the retrial and more busy with the Muslim Brotherhood and their terrorism,” says Nafady. “If Mubarak is found innocent in the retrial, the public won't be really angry.”

Gamal Eid adds says if there is no will to hold Mubarak accountable for what he did, there is no real trial.

“There has to be a political will to hold those in charge accountable and this will has to come from government, but the current government doesn't have the political will to hold Mubarak accountable,” says Eid.

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