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Egypt in revolt

Court verdicts ignite mass outrage

Published Jun 6, 2012 11:20 PM

June 4 — An Egyptian court’s verdicts that minimize the crimes of former dictator Hosni Mubarak and freed two of his sons and six other top officials have reawakened the Egyptian masses. The efforts of the ruling military council to protect their past collaborators from prosecution have outraged millions of Egyptians.

Tens of thousands took to the streets after the announced verdicts. The outpouring in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on June 2 rivaled in size the massive demonstrations of January 2011, when the revolutionary uprising began. It was these massive protests and strikes that forced Mubarak to step down almost 16 months ago.

Beyond the tens of thousands who descended on Tahrir Square within hours of the verdict, many thousands also came out in Alexandria, Suez, Mansour, Port Said, Aswan and other Egyptian cities.

Leading activists called for more protests this week, to culminate in a million-strong demonstration on Friday, June 8.

Western observers, including media outlets and human rights organizations like Amnesty International, had long expected the verdict. They initially described it in glowing terms as the first time in the history of the Arab world that a head of state had been tried, convicted and given what they termed a harsh sentence by his own people.

But the Egyptian people were not fooled by the praise. The consensus and unity generated by the sentences brought together all the strands of the revolutionary groups. They have realized that their very survival is now at stake.

Chants of “Illegitimate!” and “Down with military rule!” reflected the masses’ rejection of the court’s verdicts and of the ruling military council itself, called the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The SCAF has ruled Egypt since a mass revolutionary upsurge forced out Mubarak. This military council has kept in place all the institutions of the hated Mubarak dictatorship.

The SCAF took over the reins of power in February of last year, promising a transition to democracy through a long and complicated preparation for a three-stage election process. But it has become increasingly clear to the Egyptian workers and oppressed masses that the rule of the SCAF was strictly an effort to buy time while holding in place the same class relations and all the pillars of the old regime — the military, the banks, and the treaties and agreements with Israel and the U.S.

The setting up of elections and the staged trial of Mubarak were used to prepare for a total comeback once the revolutionary mood was exhausted.

Although the Cairo criminal court did give life sentences to Mubarak and his especially hated Minister of the Interior Habib el-Adly for “not preventing the murder of protesters” during last year’s January 25 Revolution, all other defendants in the case, including Mubarak’s two sons — Gamal and Alaa — and six of el-Adly’s top aides, were cleared of all charges. Mubarak and his sons were also cleared of corruption charges. Furthermore, the sentences against Mubarak and el-Adly are expected to be overturned on appeal.

The trial of Mubarak and his top officials was considered a political charade from the beginning. The deposed president and his sons were indicted in April 2011 in order to quiet the massive demonstrations demanding their trial. But the charges were so weak that the trial seemed designed to end in acquittals. Presiding over the trial were three judges, all Mubarak appointees.

The official charges stemmed from the deaths of only some of the almost 900 protesters shot or beaten to death by security forces in the January 2011 demonstrations. They made no mention of the thousands killed, the billions of dollars stolen or the many traitorous crimes committed during almost 30 years of dictatorship. Under the rule of the SCAF, not a single person has been convicted of killing a protester. All the junior officers tried in Egypt over the past year have been acquitted.

SCAF controls the elections

After the verdict, crowds stormed the headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, who has been declared a leading contender in planned runoff elections after a deeply flawed presidential election process. The people are already very angry about the outcome of the first round.

It has become clear to millions that the military council used its role in organizing the elections to reconsolidate its power, deciding who could run for office and under what conditions. It organized the vote and had total control over which candidates could participate; it also appointed the judges who review voting challenges. Since the results were announced, countless voting irregularities have surfaced, only to be dismissed.

The economic situation became much worse in recent months as basic goods became scarce, including bread and cooking oil, while gas prices have skyrocketed. The military council has been unable to resolve any of the enormous crises that inspired and drove the uprising.

The Mubarak verdict reveals a gross miscalculation by the rulers, who thought that the revolutionary spirit had waned and that the return of the old regime was possible.

As a consequence of the verdicts, the Egyptian masses have been reinvigorated and their unity re-established in a display not seen since Feb. 11, 2011. A new stage in the Egyptian revolutionary process is clearly unfolding.