Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

No case to answer

The decision to drop all charges against Hosni Mubarak fuelled protests on the street, and uproar in political and media circles. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The latest trial of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak ended on 29 November when Cairo Criminal Court ordered that all charges against him be dropped. The court cleared Mubarak of any responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters demonstrating against his rule from 25 until 31 January 2011. Mubarak and his two sons were also cleared of corruption charges relating to the contract to sell gas to Israel granted to billionaire businessman Hussein Salem.

In the final days of the retrial in August presiding judge Mahmoud Al-Rashidi allowed Mubarak and his co-defendants to address the court. They claimed repeatedly that the uprising in January 2011 that forced Mubarak from office was a conspiracy hatched in Washington.

Mubarak’s conviction and three-year sentence on another corruption charge —embezzling funds allocated to renovating presidential palaces — still stands. But given that Mubarak and his co-defendants in the case, the former president’s sons Alaa and Gamal have already spent three years behind bars, they could soon be free.

Following his ouster Mubarak faced five separate charges. He was cleared, rather than acquitted, of three, on legal technicalities.

The former president was initially accused of giving orders to police to fire at protesters who demonstrated against his rule. On 23 March 2011, the prosecutor general judged that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case, opening the door to this week’s dismissal of the charges. Two months later, on 25 May 2011, a decision was made to press a case for manslaughter against Mubarak. The problem, said Al-Rashidi in a detailed statement to the press, is that the lesser charge of manslaughter “were pursued without the prosecutor-general issuing a written order, as required by article 211 of the Criminal Procedures Law, clearly stating that its earlier March decision was cancelled”.

“Prosecution authorities listened to the testimonies of many protesters injured during the January 2011 demonstrations and decided after two months, on 23 March, 2011, that the accusations leveled by these citizens against Mubarak were not solid enough to refer him to trial,” said the statement. “In spite of this the prosecutor-general then decided to use these same testimonies to refer Mubarak to trial on May, 2011, on charges of manslaughter.”

Within hours of the ruling Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat said the prosecution was reviewing the court’s reasons for rejecting the case to see if there were grounds for appeal before the Court of Cassation. On Tuesday Barakat appealed saying that “a study of the reasons for the ruling revealed legal flaws that tinged the judgment”.

If an appeal against the 29 November verdict is accepted the Court of Cassation will take charge of any retrial and its verdict will be final. If the Court of Cassation decides there are no grounds for appeal, that decision too is final.

Al-Rashidi urged that testimony provided by 15 leading military, police, and media figures should be used by historians “to re-write the recent history of Egypt”.

The court’s decision to clear Mubarak of manslaughter charges represents a reversal of the verdict against him issued on 2 June, 2012, after the former autocrat’s first trial. Then Judge Ahmed Rifaat sentenced Mubarak to life imprisonment for failing to prevent security forces from opening fire on protestors who had gathered in Tahrir Square.

Commenting on the verdicts, Mubarak told the media that he had laughed when the judgment was issued against him in June 2012. “As for the second judgment this week I was eager to listen to it because I expected it to announce my innocence. I did not commit a single crime,” Mubarak told the private Sada Al-Balad television channel in a telephone call.

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber told CBC television channel on Sunday that “Mubarak cannot be subjected to a political trial” though “the coming parliament could choose to hold hearing sessions on Mubarak-era policies to see whether they caused political damage to the country in any way”.

Al-Rashidi urged President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to press the Higher Council for the Revolution’s Martyrs and Injured to compensate those killed and injured in the 2011 uprising. Hosni Saber, chairman of the council, said Al-Sisi on Sunday ordered all possible “financial and in-kind support” to be made available to “the martyrs who sacrificed themselves in the 2011 Revolution”.

Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim Al-Heneidi told parliamentary reporters on Sunday that a new transitional justice law was being finalised to expedite compensation to victims of the 2011 and 2013 Revolutions.

The court also cited technicalities for rejecting charges of profiteering levelled against Mubarak and his sons.

The court could not deliver a judgment in the controversial gas sales to Israel case, said Al-Rashidi, because article 15 of Egypt’s Criminal Procedures Law, passed in 1950, limits the jurisdiction of courts to corruption cases less than ten years old. He urged legislative authorities to change article 15 to allow courts to deliberate on corruption and graft cases more than 10 years old.

The court’s judgment tallies with the verdict reached following Mubarak’s first trial in June 2012 when it was announced the charges had expired.

In a meeting with Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber on Sunday, Al-Sisi urged that the legislative reform committee formed last June amend article 15.

A presidential statement issued on Sunday said “the new Egypt, a result of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June, will build a modern democratic state based on justice and combating corruption.”

The presidency declined to comment on the Mubarak verdict “out of respect for the constitution which stipulates that the judiciary is independent”.

On Saturday night, hours after the ruling was announced, crowds gathered in Abdel-Moneim Riyad Square, adjacent to Tahrir, to protest the court’s decision. The demonstrators included many family members of those murdered in January 2011. Clashes with security forces left two dead and fifteen injured. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood university students who have been demonstrating on campuses since the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi also organized new protests on Sunday.

The ruling precipitated sharp divisions in political and media circles. Revolutionary forces and independent NGOs said the verdict marked a return of the culture of impunity that dominated the Mubarak-era, and underlined the absence of official accountability. Liberal and leftist political forces which emerged during and immediately after Mubarak’s ouster said on Monday that they would organise demonstrations against the verdict.

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ruling should not be used as an excuse to plunge Egypt into revolutionary and political chaos.

“We respect the judiciary and reject that their judgments be used for political reasons,” said Sadat.

He warned, however, that the ruling might be seen as an invitation to members of Mubarak’s now defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to try to dominate political life once again.

The Constitution Party and other revolutionary forces said that “court verdicts aside, the judgment against Mubarak was issued three years ago when Egyptians turned out in millions to denounce his rule”.

Mustafa Bakri, editor of the independent weekly Al-Osbou and spokesman of the Egyptian Front Coalition, a grouping that includes many Mubarak-era figures, noted that Al-Rashidi had reproached prosecution authorities for failing to build a convincing case against Mubarak and the other defendants.

Bakri noted with approval that the court had pointed accusing fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood, taking it to task for acts of sabotage on the Friday of Anger (28 January, 2011) and afterwards, and quoted statements stressing that national security agencies  agreed that the Muslim Brotherhood, in coordination with the Gaza-based Palestinian movement Hamas, the Lebanese Shia party Hizbullah and jihadists in Sinai had fomented violence in Tahrir Square and other parts of Egypt at the height of the 2011 Revolution.

Bakri condemned the Western media, American newspapers in particular, for using the ruling to tarnish President Al-Sisi.

“Given how incorrect their coverage and analysis of the 30 June Revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood proved, it is surprising to see them scrabbling to use this judgment to tarnish president Al-Sisi, describing him as another Mubarak,” said Bakri.

“In their battle against Al-Sisi, the American media depends on Western-backed NGOs which are always ready to say what they want to hear.”

Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb notes that the Mubarak verdict came just days after a grand jury in America refused to indict a white policeman found guilty of killing an American teenager, triggering protests across the United States.

“I think the American media, which likes to preach to Arab countries about judicial rulings, should consider how last week’s verdict in Missouri exposed a faltering political and judicial system and racial discrimination against black Americans,” said Abu Taleb. In response, he added, US authorities used the army and police to brutally disperse black protesters.

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