Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 May 2011
Issue No. 1048
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In the name of justice

Jailan Halawi surveys local opinion on the trials of the Mubarak family

Ever since the downfall of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime, his family's arrest, detention, interrogation and possible trial left the public opinion divided on what he really deserves.

The 83-year-old Mubarak is currently under arrest in hospital on charges of corruption, abuse of state funds and ordering the killing of nearly 800 protesters during the 25 January Revolution. If found guilty, Mubarak could face the death penalty.

His whole family is in distress with almost all its members either in jail or almost there. Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal, the once superstars of social, business and political life, are currently detained in Tora prison along with other businessmen and government officials.

The latest blow dealt to the family came last Friday, 13 May, when the once first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Hosni Mubarak, was remanded in custody for 15 days pending interrogation. On hearing the news, Suzanne Mubarak reportedly suffered a heart attack. She was found not guilty on Tuesday on charges of illicit profiteering.

What exactly will become of the Mubarak family remains an open question. In an online survey conducted by Al-Ahram Weekly, a majority agreed that the Mubaraks should be tried, but yet differed on how they should serve out any punishment. Interviews with people on the street show equal division on who deserves more to be in jail.

Interviewees believe the major concern should be whether or not Mubarak is guilty of ordering former interior minister Habib El-Adli to shoot live ammunition at protesters, as well as verifying allegations of involvement in late president Anwar El-Sadat's assassination. For that, the majority asked for the maximum prison punishment while a minority approved of the death penalty.

And while some deny that the Mubaraks are to blame for the corruption suffered in Egypt for decades, others take a harsher stance, insisting their fellow citizens fall currently under the "Stockholm syndrome" where a victim identifies with its persecutor.

"We neither need people to remain in their state of denial nor to gloat. It is all about ethics. Mubarak should face a fair trial while we work hard on building our country," said human resources specialist, Heba El-Assar. "What the people need at this moment," she continued, "is for Mubarak to admit his mistakes and apologise for the lives taken under his rule. I don't care if he serves term in Tora or at home; until this moment he remains defiantly arrogant and reluctant to admit his faults."

Pilot Mustafa Anwar is against the trial under one condition, "that they [the Mubaraks] return all the money they illegally obtained," so that Egypt's economy may flourish.

However, Anwar refers to Mubarak's latest statement that his bank account has only LE6 million obtained through legal channels, a claim that most of society finds difficult to believe. "Saying that means that he is adamant on fooling us and robbing us further. Without full transparency, I will wholeheartedly support a fair trial to return our money back," he said.

"Nobody is above the law," said Ahmed Eissa, a political observer, who believes that Mubarak and his family still deserve a fair trial, "without the tone of vengeance that is heard everywhere, and without all the accusations, which have pointed him out as singlehandedly responsible for all problems we are currently facing."

Indeed corruption was rife during Mubarak's reign, Eissa noted, yet it went as far down as low-ranking employees and those too deserve trial.

"I believe they [the Mubaraks] must be tried over allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and rigging all previous elections," said Ali Abdel-Fatah, a government employee. "Going to jail is another matter," he added, while referring to their old age and the Egyptian tradition of respecting elders. "Perhaps, if convicted, they should be placed under house arrest or allowed to travel to a neighbouring country, but only after they give back the money they stole from Egyptians over 30 years," he told the Weekly.

Abdel-Fatah, like many Egyptians, believes it is important to put the Mubaraks on trial, "in order to set a precedent for any future president that will take over power, and confirm that nobody is above the rule of law."

IT consultant Rana Allam agrees with Abdel-Fattah yet believes that talk about his sickness and old age is unfair, because none of the Mubaraks had mercy on sick and old Egyptians for decades. "They should be treated as everyone else. If the doctors say they are sick and should be in hospitals, then fine, put them in prison hospitals. But that is as much justice as our system allows. They should get no exceptional treatment. In fact, because Mubarak was 'the president' as they [who oppose putting him on trial] say, he should be condemned more harshly because he had the chance to make Egypt better yet willingly did not," she said.

Others take a harsher stance still. For media specialist May Abdel-Azim, the Mubaraks should be tried and jailed for "treason, profiteering and manslaughter. They have to be punished for stripping off the dreams and resources of this country, for every man who died from lack of medical treatment, for every child who died of toxic milk powder, and every woman who had to sell her body to feed her family."

Others believe that trying Mubarak and executing him if found guilty won't bring any benefit to the country. "The trauma Mubarak is currently going through, from losing his decades long powers to having all his family jailed and humiliated, is the worst punishment that he can ever get. Yet for his own sake, as for ours, as for the country, Mubarak needs to recognise his mistakes and sincerely apologise to the nation. It is then our role to forgive him and be better," said accountant Emad Zaitoun.

Zaitoun further called on Egyptians to realise their role in Mubarak's tyrannical rule instead of holding him solely responsible for the country's downfall. "We need to admit that we are the ones who allowed Mubarak to act like a Pharaoh and we are equally responsible for keeping our mouths shut all those years. We need to learn how to forgive in order to evolve," he said.

Some interviewees were extremely angry at the fierce media campaign against Mubarak and his family, accusing the media of denying the family any chance of a fair trial while insisting that the late president and his family are innocent of all accusations against them.

"I cannot believe the amount of vengeance that surfaced in our society. No one is perfect. Indeed Mubarak made mistakes, but he also had virtues. This is a man under whose rule we enjoyed peace and security, the two things we miss most now. For me, he is like a father who will always deserve my respect, even with his mistakes," said Lamia Assem.

Assem urged the people to remember Mubarak's 1973 victory over Israel and the many developmental projects he undertook, at least during the first 15 years of his rule. She further explains that, "Egyptian women should not forget the various gains they obtained due to Mrs Mubarak's efforts, and the people should forever remember that it was the first lady who established the charitable and highly qualified hospital for helping children with cancer, before we advocate for her incarceration."

Engineer Mohamed Eiwais agrees with Assem and believes that, "the best of sinners are those who repent. We all have our faults and we should learn how to be merciful and practise what we preach."

Eiwais believes that Egyptian society ought to be merciful on a family that lost all its powers and show some flexibility in handling their case. "We have fought for justice to prevail and now when the time has come to practice it we are failing badly. The man and his wife are too weak and old. They lost their grandchild a couple of years ago and now their sons are facing trial. His wife has offered all her possessions to the country and like her husband is deteriorating physically. What happened to you Egyptians? Show some mercy, for after all he was not the devil and you were not all angels," he said.

Medical doctor Jihane Youssef agrees and points to the fate of the Mubarak grandchildren and the trauma they must be living through. "I am neither with nor against Mubarak. I am with mercy that should stand above justice," she said.

Architect Ali El-Sharkawi begged to differ. "Mubarak should be tried without mercy or consideration for old age or sickness... no more than any other Egyptian would have received, had he not been Mubarak. Mubarak never showed mercy to the Egyptians who drowned, were smashed under the rubble of illegal constructions, were crushed between the cold metal of trains, were left to rot in hospital corridors because he had rendered them too poor to afford the most basic medical care. He should be tried so that justice can be obtained, and justice may then rule the future of this country. Justice, law and order are the only hope we have of establishing a decent country and preserving the rights of its citizens. They will only prevail if Mubarak is tried, and they stand no chance if he is not," he said.

Had Mubarak recognised the wrongs he has done to Egypt and sought genuine forgiveness for all his mistakes, "we may have considered granting forgiveness according to the teaching of our religion and morality. Unfortunately, it seems that any regrets are aimed at averting punishment, rather than a genuine feeling of repentance," El-Sharkawi said.

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