The decline and fall of Hosni Mubarak

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Sunday 12 Feb 2012

One year on, Ahram Online remembers the run up to the ouster of Egypt's most infamous president and the fate of his still ongoing trial

Hosni Mubarak during a session of his entrenched National Democratic Party in 2009(Photo:Reuters)

In hindsight, some Egyptians argue that it was only a matter of time before there was a revolt.

However, no one could foresee the course of the revolt as it actually happened a year ago – not even secret intelligence.

The uprising slipped through the wiretaps and floated over confidential files on citizens kept by Mubarak's ever-potent state security force – simply because the revolution was never planned.

Just half an hour into the demonstrations on Tahrir that 'started it all' on 25 January 2011, amidst chants of bread and freedom, a few lone voices chanted "down, down with Hosni Mubarak." 

Protesters carefully chanted for "democracy" which if implemented could bring Mubarak down and prevent his son from comfortably inheriting the title of president. Only pro-democracy activists really considered the bold move to call for Mubarak's outright ouster.

On Friday, 28 January, the state turned off all communications channels and began shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the peaceful protesters marching to Tahrir. The police used their muscle against citizens and when the television came back on the world saw millions – some wounded, some almost dying from the brutal attacks – demanding vehemently that Mubarak leave.

Mubarak did step down three weeks later, on 11 February, after a 37-second statement by his vice president and long-time intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman.

Egyptians poured onto the streets. Mass celebrations erupted, fireworks were set off and people were ecstatically joyful.

The beginning of the end

On 25 January, both protesters and police forces were tense with anticipation. A large-scale demonstration was organised through Facebook, inspired by Tunisia's revolt the month before.

As tens of thousands began marching towards Tahrir Square, adequate numbers of central security forces matched the protesters. It was clear that no orders were given to use force but they were, nonetheless, prepped with anti-riot gear.

It was also obvious that mid-ranking police officers wanted to wait and see how events turned out before committing to a decision. By 4:30 pm, police forces lining the Qasr El-Nile bridge allowed the march into Tahrir Square seemingly without any intention to block the bridge.

Protesters expected a crackdown at any point.

Police forces on the outskirts of the square did, indeed, fire teargas and hose the crowds down with water but it did little to deter demonstrators.

When it was obvious that by the end of 25 January protesters were going to set up shop in Tahrir Square, police orders changed at midnight.

By Friday, 28 January evening police forces had failed to suppress the masses, even after killing hundreds of protesters and injuring thousands. Finally Mubarak and his cronies faced the reality that the uprising merited a presidential speech.

Mubarak's regime cut off mobile phones and internet connections. Under the cover of a communications blackout, police killed hundreds of protesters around the country that day. Many prisons were stormed and Egyptians had to defend their homes and livelihoods from inmates who ran rampant in the streets. Residents of all ages set up midnight neighbourhood watches, working in shifts to protect their houses and families with whatever weapons they could grab. The scene was chaos.

The then president Mubarak addressed the nation, telling them in a recorded speech that Egypt's beloved military would mobilise in order to handle the security situation and to impose a curfew.

Police forces had completely withdrawn. Demonstrators claimed victory over the longstanding state-tool of oppression as they seized the square. The curfew was supposed to be imposed that same night, even as Tahrir swelled by the thousands.

Mubarak also said in the speech that he would appoint a new government but this only served to infuriate the masses. It also raised the stakes as protesters then started calling for his immediate ouster. "We will not go, he [Mubarak] should go" was the chant heard across every revolutionary square in Egypt.

Meanwhile, as more numbers were pouring into Tahrir square which was fast becoming the heart of the uprising, Mubarak's regime continued to carry out its own idea of damage control.

Mubarak gave an emotional speech on 1 February declaring that he "did not intend" to run for another presidential term and that a committee would be formed to amend certain regulatory articles of the constitution.

However the military council had already released a statement on 31 January saying that it was convening without Mubarak. Possible a gesture to the public, this move showed that the military council was planning to resolve the situation without the president.

Media coverage of the uprising broke records. International pressure escalated as the square hosted over a million peaceful protesters from all social backgrounds united in overthrowing the president.

Ten days after the last speech, Mubarak gave another televised statement on the evening of 10 February.

Everyone was certain that this would be the moment that Mubarak would announce he was stepping-down. To the indescribable disappointment of millions... he did not.

The former chief of Egypt's state television news sector and friend of the Mubaraks, Abdul Latif El-Menawi, wrote in his recently published memoirs that Mubarak's younger son, Gamal, who was pruned to become the next president, convinced his father at the last minute not to step-down in the 10 February speech. 

Despite the setback, Egyptians continued their protests. The next day, at around 6:00 pm, state television aired a recorded statement by Omar Suleiman, with Mubarak notably absent, announcing the president had resigned and that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was to take charge of the country. Mubarak's older son, Alaa, had apparently finally talked his father into leaving office.

As the resignation was announced, Mubarak and his wife had already boarded a plane to Sharm El-Sheikh, the coastal Red Sea resort town.

The Aftermath: will Mubarak see justice?

Egyptians accused the ousted president of being directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of peaceful protesters during the 18-day uprising, as well as blaming him for the rampant corruption that crippled the country throughout his 30-year tenure.

When nothing changed and those responsible were not brought to justice, the people took to the streets again.

Instead of going to jail, the ousted president stayed in the Sharm El-Sheikh hospital for "health reasons." Residents who relied on tourism for their livelihood repeatedly protested in front of the hospital. They demanded Mubarak be transferred back to Cairo, along with his extensive security entourage that scared tourists away, so they could resume their work in the lucrative resort town.

Up until April the SCAF failed to declare any intention of putting the ousted president on trial. The inaction of the ruling military council added to the fears that Mubarak would be above the law and escape retribution. In Cairo, suspicions arose that Mubarak would be allowed to live peacefully in his beach house.

Consequently in early April 2011, political groups called for repeated mass rallies in Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak be brought to justice. Hundreds of thousands of protesters responded to the call forming a series of mass demonstrations.

In response to the April rallies, the prosecutor general confirmed the detention of Mubarak and his sons pending investigation. Satisfaction with the result was reflected in an empty Tahrir Square the following Friday. Political groups cancelled calls for more million-man marches.

After a series of investigative phases, Mubarak was flown to Cairo to attend the first session of his trial in early August.

In late July, Judge Ahmed Fahmi Refaat announced that the trial would be shown on live television following a sit-in on Tahrir that had started on 8 July.

The action to allow cameras into the courtroom at least showed a vague intention from the authorities to maintain transparency. It seemed an attempt to prove to the majority that it was not a sham trial.

In the summer, against a backdrop of rising violence, protesters and political groups began to suspect the true motives of the ruling military council, with many campaigning against the SCAF's decision to subject civilians to military trials.  

Although there were many divisions in the revolutionary movement during Egypt's transitional phase, the issue of punishing the ousted president was a unifying demand among political groups.

Even though Mubarak was brought before a civilian court, rather than being put on "exceptional trial" which is usually reserved for key political figures, there has been continued political pressure on the judiciary and the state by the public to find him guilty.

However, Mubarak, who is 83 years old and reportedly unwell, may not make it to the verdict due to the length and complexity of the trial. The case files now number over 50,000 papers, according to a statement made by the head of the judicial club on 6 February. Mubarak's defense lawyers have also called hundreds of witnesses to the stand.

Others fear that Egypt's former president will be acquitted or given a reduced sentence as the infrastructure of his regime is still very much in place.

Moreover Suzanne Mubarak revealed in her recently published memoirs that on 1 February, 2011 in a telephone conversation with the USA President Barack Obama, Mubarak asked for written guarantees of safe passage for himself and his family. These, she wrote, were granted by a special envoy from America.

With the prolonged nature of civilian lawsuits, the SCAF still in power and continuing doubts about the trial being an elaborate sham, it is hard to determine whose hands Mubarak's fate truly lies in.

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