A court in the Egyptian capital Cairo has dismissed all charges pending against the country’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, the New York Times reports. Despite observers expecting Mubarak to be sentenced for a lengthy amount of time in prison, there is now the possibility that he may be released since his detention after the 2011 revolution which began the ‘Arab Spring‘, which spread onwards to Tunisia and Syria. That revolution, which saw thousands of protesters converge on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in the centre of the city, saw widespread human rights violations by the Mubarak government and local police and the ousting of the president after several decades in power , followed by the establishment of an interim military government.
In previous hearings, specialist human rights lawyers at the court demanded that ex-president Mubarak face stiff penalties and long-term imprisonment for violations against the Egyptian people carried out over his three-decade long tenure. However, today’s (Saturday 29 November 2014) court session saw remaining charges against Mubarak cleared from the record, to tumultuous cheers from supporters observing his trial from a public dock.
The former leader, now aged 86, had arrived at the court in a stretcher from a nearby military hospital where he has been detained since suffering a spell of ill health after the revolution. As the presiding chief judge, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, read out the verdict to the court, Mubarak listened with a stony-faced expression, according to the New York Times. He then smiled briefly, before his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, hugged and kissed him in celebration. The two sons were also facing charges, but were acquitted at the same time by Judge al-Rashidi. Alaa and Gamal Mubarak were both being held for corruption charges relating to embezzlement of public funds along with their father.
Judge al-Rashidi refused to elaborate on his reason for acquitting the three Mubaraks, and instead advised observers to read a 240-page summary which he had prepared from the 1,340-page explanatory report written on the case on Egypt’s one-time autocratic strongman.
The charges al-Rashidi dismissed are among some of the most serious levelled against Hosni Mubarak. One concerned the former president’s involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters who brought Cairo to a standstill during the protests that brought Mubarak down. The New York Times reported that the protesters had been peaceful and were not armed. Another charge concerned a corruption case where Mubarak and his sons were accused of selling natural gas to neighbouring Israel at below-market prices. Other allegations also dismissed were that Mubarak and sons awarded themselves with holiday homes and monetary kickbacks illegitimately.
In May this year, Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to three years in prison in a separate corruption case, involving lavish and government-funded improvements to his and his sons’ personal homes, which had not been approved by the treasury. However, as the former president has already served this time in detention-based custody, he may in fact be freed if the court determines that he has indeed served the requisite time in jail.
After passing the acquittal of the remaining charges, Judge al-Rashidi said his final verdict on the long drawn-out Mubarak case, which has equally gripped and divided the Egyptian nation was “…nothing to do with politics“, the New York Times wrote. Many citizens who have been following the case say it is a sign that the country has moved beyond the times since the agitations of three years ago. The country’s current president, military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who in 2013 led an army takeover of Egypt, removing the Muslim Brotherhood government under another former and controversial leader, Mohammed Morsi, has already cemented himself as Egypt’s toughest leader and has ingratiated himself with several of Mubarak’s former advisors and minsterial kingpins. However there is no suggestion from the New York Times report that el-Sisi had anything to do with the dismissal of his predecessor today.
The tide has increasingly turned against the leaders of the 2011 revolution in recent months. Egypt’s state-run media outlets along with pro-government newspapers have denounced the revolutionaries as a dangerous “fifth column” that is out to destabilise Egypt, while the Islamists under Morsi’s cabinet have also been denounced and had punitive measures enacted against them. Earlier this year, thousands of supporters allied with Muslim Brotherhood were originally sentenced to death by the military government, although some may have had their sentences commuted or executions stayed.
Legal experts studying Mubarak’s trial have questioned the legitimacy of the court proceedings, citing that they were flawed from the start. They claim that the trial had been rushed into the courthouse without any legal checks due to public pressure to punish Hosni Mubarak for his crimes along with feelings of revenge among both ordinary Egyptians and the new politicians holding the reins.
The murder charges where police were directed to gun down protesters encamped in Tahrir Square would have been difficult to prove conclusively, the legal experts reported, as the Egyptian military is notoriously complex, with many layers of structure and chains of command. The country’s police are also given much leeway in self-defence, which means proving their guilt will be problematic given that inspectors could cite that their officers were under threat from protesters. Legal analysis of the corruption charges on the abuse of public money by the Mubarak family determined that they too were built on shaky ground as they had been hastily thrown together. No thorough review was made of the numerous other corruption allegations levelled against Mubarak in his 30 year reign.
Mubarak had in fact earlier been found guilty of the exact same charges he was acquitted from today, and the judge presiding over that earlier trial had sentenced the ex-president to life in prison. An appellate court threw out that verdict after the judge from the earlier trial admitted that there was a ‘lack of evidence’ to firmly establish Mubarak’s conviction. Several corruptions charges against junior members of Mubarak’s inner circle were also terminated by the previous judge, due to ‘technical grounds’.
The New York Times report does not disclose the ex-president’s and his son’s current whereabouts or what legal steps the Egyptian court system may take next. No comment has been reported yet from opponents of Mubarak or of the reaction of the Egyptian media following the dismissal.