The Caged Pharaoh
The trial against the leaders of the former regime continues in Egypt on Tuesday, as the former minister of interior Habib El Adly appeared in front of judges under the accusation of having ordered the killing of the people who were protesting against Mubarak in January and February.
If found guilty, El Adly faces the death penalty, as do the others who were in the cage at the Police Academy yesterday, including the former President Hosni Mubarak.
In May, El Adly has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison for money laundering. He was also ordered to pay $2.3 million.
On Wednesday, Mubarak and his sons appeared before the judges, and pleaded not guilty of all the charges brought against them: the killing of the demonstrators in January and February, corruption and abuse of office.
The trial is supposed to last until August 15, by which time a sentence is expected to be reached, provoking various attitudes in the Egyptian society.
The trial that started yesterday is important for the Egyptian people, no doubt, because Mubarak is perceived as the man that made their lives unbearable for the last decades, but exposing him in a cage is more like an image hit, even though it was nothing other than judicial procedure.
People in Egypt and in the entire Arab world are not accustomed to this kind of image, with their leaders presented to judges like criminals. From that point of view, Mubarak in the cage sends a distressing message to all the leaders in the Arab world that their reign is not eternal, and that even someone who is thought to be untouchable can fall.
The same image sends to the people of these countries the message that they can win against their tyrants, and that no matter how powerful they may be at a certain moment, they can also fall.
As for those embattled right now, Muammar al-Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, the message will be complete when the sentence is passed. If Mubarak hangs, which is very much unlikely, then they will know, if by then they are still fighting their own people, that they will end up like him. A reason enough to fight to the death, regardless of how many deaths are being caused in the process.
Before all started in Egypt, Mubarak’s position in the Arab world seemed unshakeable. He was the leader most courted by the Western politicians, he was appearing at the highest reunions and in picture with all the presidents and kings of the democratic world, he was a good friend of Israel and nothing seemed to be able to make him take this kind of fall.
He was expected to win elections, like he had done for the last thirty years, and his son Gamal was seen as the heir apparent, just in case the health of the Pharao was about to break down because of advanced age.
The first sign that the people of Egypt were not as happy about Mubarak’s rule was definitely the warm reception they offered Muhammad AlBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Association, who had come home to live among his people and to challenge Mubarak’s rule in the presidential elections, which were expected this year.
The regime took his challenge seriously, and in a matter of days the daughter of AlBaradei was exposed on Facebook drinking in a very Western-like style, something that is almost fatal to a leader in the Muslim world, where alcohol is forbidden by the Prophet himself.
And speaking of the Muslim world, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the most important force that could have opposed the reign of Mubarak’s family, was declared illegal, and its activists were constantly placed behind bars.
With that attitude toward the Muslim part of the political landscape Mubarak won the hearts of the Israeli leaders, and consequently of their American protectors, which chose to turn a blind eye to the various infringements of human rights reported in his country, one of the most obvious being the fact that though the regime was by no means religion-inspired, it always took the side of the Muslims in the clashes with the Copt Christians, even by not interfering to stop the Muslims from burning down Christian churches.
There is no doubt that if one asks the Christian Copts what do they think about what is happening to Mubarak, they will say that this is the punishment of God for allowing the Muslim forces to slaughter them without doing anything to protect them.
The year started very badly for Egypt, as a Copt church was destroyed and people were killed during the religious service of the Eucharist.
Something almost miraculous happened then: as Mubarak’s police was in no way preoccupied to chase the wrongdoers, the Muslim intellectual in Cairo and Alexandria became human shields as they attended the Nativity liturgy in the churches, giving the Christians a chance to celebrate the birth of their Savior, whom even the Muslims revere much.
The fact that intellectuals were capable of such extraordinary act should have preoccupied the regime, telling it that too much pressure can create an uncontrollable response.
But is it only God that forsook Mubarak or his trusted friends turned their backs on him, too?
The United States, which provides the Egyptian military with money and equipment, had a fade reaction and gave him warnings only as the things became too catastrophic to ignore.
Israel expressed its concern over the regime’s fall in Cairo, and stressed that he had been a friend of their country for a long time and that his removal is not in the best interest of anyone in the region. No more than that was done. What else could have been done?
As for the leaders of the Muslim world, those who were not fighting the people in the streets themselves took joy in the fall of Mubarak. To some of them he was no more than a traitor to Islam and a collaborator of Israel, to others he was the one they were going to attempt to replace.
During Mubarak’s regime, which started after the assassination of Anwar al Sadat, and was the longest since the rule of sultan Muhammad Ali Pasha, Egypt was received again within the states of the Arab league, participated in the war on Iraq in 1991, but refused the invasion in 2003, on grounds that before dealing with Saddam the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should be resolved first.
Even though he implemented some of the economic measures Egypt needed so much there was little done for avoiding corruption and arbitrary, which in the end brought him the loath of the people.
Even so, people’s opinions are divided in Egypt when it comes to him. No doubt no one appreciates the way he sent the police to kill people in the Tahrir Square or how his national services have orchestrated the famous ride on camel’s back from the pyramids to Cairo, a moment that left more dead and wounded than the police brutality.
But there are people who appreciate the security he provided somehow, be that financial security or safety in the streets. As democracy is advancing at slow pace, there will be more and more who will remember him kindly. It happened to Ceausescu in Romania, an old friend of his, and probably to other tyrants all over the world.
There are reports that the deal Mubarak made with the army was to step down in exchange for a dignified treatment afterwards. He asked that he be spared the indignity of coming to trial, and he also asked that in exchange for not going into exile he be treated like a former president of the state. Honor is important for the Arab people, and the stage out is almost as important in cases like this as the performance itself.
In exchange, his army comrades allowed him to be exposed in a cage on a hospital stretch, with the perspective of receiving a death penalty. It was a display that may satisfy the people at this moment, as the display of Ceausescu shot was gratifying for the moment for his people, but as years went by and they learnt a thing or two about democracy and civilization, many Romanians are ashamed of that masquerade, that took place in the holy days of Christmas. If Mubarak gets to be sentenced to death and the sentence is to be carried out immediately, he could hang during the holy days of Muslim Ramadan. As did Saddam Hussein in his time hang on Qurban Bairam, the Feast of Sacrifice.
Question is, if he is sentenced to be hung, will the military stick to their words: “Leave, we respect you too much, and we don’t want you to end up like Ceausescu”?11