Egypt’s ‘Trial of the Century’: a step forward or back?

To some, Mubarak’s acquittal is a signal to where the judiciary and the current regime stands with respect to the goals of the Jan. 25 uprising

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In a case that has dragged for years in a trial dubbed as the “trial of the century” by local media, a Cairo court acquitted on Saturday former President Hosni Mubarak of conspiring to kill protesters during the 2011 uprising that led to his ouster.

To some, Mubarak’s acquittal is a signal to where the judiciary and the current regime stands with respect to the goals of the Jan. 25 uprising.


"After four years of a maddeningly uphill battle, the reality is that we weren't particularly surprised - mostly saddened," Mohamed el-Dahshan, a writer on Egyptian affairs, told Al Arabiya News.

Ahmad Ragheb, a human rights attorney in Egypt, said that Mubarak’s acquittal sends a message that the “millions of people who took to the street in January of 2011 had no reason to do so.”

“The regime is revamping itself, and acquitting itself,” he told Al Arabiya News, adding that it was a drawback to “a lot of people who believed in the revolution.”

Today’s verdict is one of many setbacks, Ragheb said, as he pointed to other events since 2011 that had acted as obstacles to the goals of the uprising.

"Putting this ridiculous ruling on juxtaposition with other inane acts by the Egyptian judiciary - which have included, among other things, sentencing several hundred people to death in a single ruling, including minors and deceased people - simply does not bode well for any prospect of reform of the judiciary," Dahshan said in an email.

“People on the street are comparing this verdict with that of the girls who received a three-year sentence for protesting with balloons,” Ragheb added.

“They have lost confidence in the judiciary,” Ragheb, who is also a member of the National Council of Human Rights, said.

The judiciary has been accused of failing to separate itself from the executive branch of government, raising questions on its ability to carry on with the case without bias.

“We are looking at a judicial power which, rather than maintain its independence and oversight power on the executive, has staunchly embedded itself within it,” el-Dahshan said.

In contrast, Abdel Latif el-Menawy, a columnist and writer, said the court’s decision would not be met with considerable “negative reaction.”

“The court has shown a clear and accurate effort,” he told Al Arabiya News.

While he does not advocate broadcasting trials, Menawy said that it was a “smart decision to do so as it gave people the opportunity to follow and understand the details,” he told Al Arabiya News in a phone interview.

“I think the fact there has been an explanation and what Egypt has gone through since January 2011, the majority of public opinion in Egypt will be ready to accept the verdict,” he said.

“I don’t think the reactions will impact the political process,” he added.

“The verdict confirmed that political blunders should be tried the political arena,” Menawy said.

Source of contention

However, Ragheb asserted that Egyptians today could no longer differentiate between an independent judiciary and one that wasn’t.

Another source of contention among activists, namely on Twitter, was the discrepancy between the numbers of those reportedly killed and the number presented in today’s case.

According to the court, a little more than 200 of the deaths documented by official authorities were related to the 2011 uprising, in stark contrast with the almost 900 casualties reported by activists and monitors.

“This shows a failure on behalf of the state, the numbers [presented by the court] of those reportedly killed shows that Central Security had no intention to count or document casualties,” Ragheb said.

Additionally, el-Dahshan said it was “ludicrous to ask authoritarian regimes to judge their own leaders.”

As to how this case will affect accountability of heads of state and high ranking officials, he said these figures “remain largely above judgment, with few prospects of justice for their victims.”

“While this may seem like a relief for dictators, it will have a chilling effect on prod-democracy activists who advocate for justice for all.”

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