Mubarak’s trial and the new political game in Egypt
The start of the trial of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt from 1981 until his ouster last February due to public protests, represents a watershed in Egyptian history. After the monarchy was overthrown in this country by Gamal Abdul Nasser and his colleagues in 1952, the presidents left office when they died. Nasser, who died in 1970, was replaced by his vice president Anwar Sadat. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Mubarak, who was the vice president, replaced him. Thus Mubarak became the first Egyptian president to step down and now to face trial. Alongside, his two sons, his former interior minister and six of his aides are put to trial. They are accused of giving orders to kill the protesters, profiteering and the squandering of public funds.
The protesters in Egypt have been calling for the beginning of the trial for some time. For them, putting Mubarak and the others to trial would represent the beginning of a new era, it had a symbolic meaning. This was one of the themes of the July 8 sit-ins, which lasted three weeks. They mainly demanded faster reforms and putting Mubarak on trial. So the fact that the trial began two days ago gave the demonstrations a sense of achievement and power.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been ruling the country since Mubarak left, also had an interest in starting the trial. The SCAF has been under increasing criticism for dragging its feet to introduce reforms. There are all kinds of accusations of alleged dealings with Mubarak, as well as with the Muslim Brotherhood. For the SCAF, the July 8 sit-ins were considered as an example of what to come. After forcefully ending the sit-ins on the first day of Ramadan, the military wanted to give the message that things are changing. They are clearly thinking that the beginning of the trial will make them more popular or at least will take the pressure off for some time.
The third group of actors is the Islamists and they have been also pushing for the trial to start. In the meantime they are increasingly becoming visible in the new political game in Egypt. An interesting development is the growing presence of the Salafis. They dominated the demonstrations in Tahrir Square last Friday. Despite the agreement with other opposition groups on focusing common demands in the demonstrations, they went ahead with their own slogans and called for an Islamic state and the implementation of the Shariah. This situation clearly scares the secular opposition. There have already been concerns about Islamists hijacking the revolution. An interesting debate in this respect has been the dichotomy about representation vs. institutionalization. The secular opposition began to argue that institutionalization of democracy should come first and thus the elections scheduled for the fall may be postponed. The Islamists, on the other hand, sure of their electoral victors focus on participation. Now the situation became more complicated as the Islamists are increasingly not a monolithic group. The rise of Salafis may lead to some Muslim Brotherhood members to reach out to other groups.
The start of Mubarak’s trial promises to postpone some of these very crucial discussions in Egypt. Yet it could not cover them. For a real transformation in Egypt these issues have to be dealt with.