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On the 2nd of October 2011, Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshall Mohammed Hussien Tantawi testified in the trial of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak. In his testimony, Tantawi denied that the army was ordered by the former leader to shoot protesters during the 18 days of revolt, which forced him to relinquish power on 11th of February 2011. During his testimony, Tantawi confirmed that nobody ordered him to open fire on the demonstrators. He added that the armed forces fight for Egypt and not for just any individual, whoever he or she might be. Tantawi’s testimony, which had been postponed from September, created much expectation as a crucial element of the trial of the former leader and several other high ranking officials.
Mubarak’s trial has brought to the fore two major paradoxical implications of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian revolution, the second mass uprising in the Arab awakening following Tunisia, was successful in inspiring many citizens throughout the region to rise up against their long serving dictators. The revolution directly contributed to the Libyan freedom in breaking Libyans’ fear to march to Tripoli where they ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 years old tyranny in late August 2011. Pro-democracy movements in Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria and Morocco have also drawn some important lessons from the Egyptian revolutions.
In Egypt the fall of the Mubarak regime, for the first time in history, creates the opportunity for transition to a civilian administration. Electoral laws had been amended to accommodate free, fair and transparent elections. According to the new constitution amended in March 2011, the term of limit for the president is four years, with a maximum of eight years in total. The constitution was applauded by the Muslim Brotherhood and other democratic movement groups in Egypt – seen as a positive sign for the future for Egypt
Economically, Egyptians suffered a lot due to widespread corruption and poor economic management during the Mubarak regime. It has been reported that Mubarak and his family accumulated a fortune worth up to $70 billion due to corruption and other illegitimate business activities. The United States alone froze assets worth more than $31 billion allegedly belonging to Mubarak. Out of an estimated population of 84 million people, ten percent is unemployed and the country has been experiencing soaring food prices and double digit inflation since 2006. This might change with the end of Mubarak’s rule.
On the negative side, however, the Mubarak trial could prompt many dictators around the world to strengthen their grip on power through using ‘all necessary means’, instead of facing a humiliating trial. Until Judge Ahmad Refaat decided, on 15 August 2011, to halt the live television broadcasts of Mubarak’s trial, the events were broadcast throughout the country in almost every media outlet. This included images of, Mr. Mubarak’s appearance in an ambulance and lying in his bed during his trial.. This phenomenon could undermine the justice system in Egypt and the Cairo Criminal Court.
It is important to note that no leader has relinquished power since the trial of Mubarak through public pressure out of nearly a dozen countries potentially part of the Arab Spring. Rather, many Arab leaders have been applying three different mechanisms to defuse the mounting pressure and to maintain their power: economic, social and political concessions, arrest and torture of prominent politicians and activists, and a full scale military option even if it leads to deepening the political quagmire and eventually civil war.
Libya’s ousted ruler Muammar Gaddafi only surrendered in death.. Yemeni and Syrian leaders are staying in power through arbitrary killings and torture while the peaceful protests in both countries are now turning in to civil war. Yet their leaders would prefer fighting and terrorizing to the end rather than facing justice and humiliation by their people.
The democratic transition in Egypt will get a boost if the court can thoroughly examine the charges, based on tangible evidence, against Mubarak and his aides. But if it fails to do so and if it passes a quick and shallow decision to satisfy certain interest groups in the country, the nation won`t get justice — just revenge against the despots.
There is a difference between implementing justice and exercising revenge. Therefore the trial of Hosni Mubarak should serve justice by taking lessons from past mistakes and by building a democratic Egypt. For this reason, the trial of Hosni Mubarak and other key officials should meet three main objectives: maintaining and implementation of the rule of law, sending a strong message to the current and future leaders that they should be accountable for their deeds and to recover public assets embezzled through corruption, kickbacks and other illegitimate activities.
Written by Abele Abate Demissie, Intern, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Addis Ababa Office