With only two weeks to go before the decisive run-off round of Egypt’s presidential election, voters are presented with a polarizing choice between an Islamist Candidate and a former military man who served as former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister in the final days of his embattled regime. As revolutionary forces threaten to boycott an election they believe will undermine Egypt’s democratic transition, public anger toward symbols of the former regime has surged in the aftermath of controversial verdicts in the trials of Mubarak, his two sons, and Interior Ministry officials.
On June 2, Judge Ahmed Refaat sentenced Mubarak to 25 years in prison ( a life sentence under Egyptian law) for complicity in the killing of Protestors in Tahrir Square during the January 2011 protests. While prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Mubarak, protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square to condemn the ruling were most outraged by the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, on corruption charges and the acquittal of senior interior ministry officials on complicity to murder charges. In his verdicts for Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly (who was also sentenced to 25 years in prison), Judge Refaat found that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to justify a murder conviction, making it very likely that Mubarak and al-Adly could be acquitted upon appeal. Although the prosecution had presented numerous witnesses, forensic medical reports, video footage and internal state security documents, the evidence was not convincing to convict Mabarak and al-Adly on murder charges – only complicity in the killing of protesters.
Opinion across the Arab World is split. Commentators compared the fate of Mubarak to that of former Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi (killed by his own people) with that of Bashar al-Assad, who continues to resist calls for his resignation by violently repressing civilians, and believed the verdict should have been harsher. Others argued that a life sentence is a fair penalty for a dictator who trampled the rights of his people and exploited national resources for his own benefit.
Some legal experts argue that the final verdict was more political than judicial, claiming that the judge was on the verge of acquitting Mubarak and al-Adly, but at the last minute sentenced them to life in prison (with the strong possibility of acquittal through appeal), believing that the public would not stand for an outright acquittal. But if the verdict was meant to appease the public, it had the opposite effect. Some protesters in Tahrir Square brandished nooses in the air, symbolizing the harsher sentence they had hoped for. Other protesters expressed outrage with the acquittal of Alaa and Gamal.
Hours after the hearing, the Muslim Brotherhood called the verdict “shocking” and “disgraceful,” vowing to retry Mubarak. The Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi told a press conference that, if elected, he would set up a new prosecution team to gather fresh evidence against those who “killed revolutionaries, corrupted the state and smuggled the country’s wealth abroad for decades.” The Brotherhood office has officially ordered all members to take to the streets in protest of the hearing. The ruling is viewed as a major liability for the campaign of Ahmed Shafik, who has already been struggling to shed the stigma of his association with the former regime.
Revolutionaries, who had hoped that a harsher sentence would bring definite closure to the Mubarak era and restore the revolution’s faltering momentum. Protesters who rallied in Tahrir Square to condemn the ruling, voiced an unusually specific set of demands: drafting the new constitution immediately; retrying Mubarak in front of the International Criminal Court; and forming a presidential council headed by Mohamed al-Baradei with former candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.
Additionally, protesters have called for Mohamed Morsi to quit the presidential race before the June 16-17 run-off to join protesters. They firmly believe that this critical juncture if could bring Egypt to an abyss with no return if action is not taken to thwart the interests of the former regime, represented by the candidacy of Ahmed Shafik. As revolutionary forces try to persuade the Muslim Brotherhood to redirect its energy from the election to the street, the final days leading up to the run-off could see a violent clash between the forces of change and remnants of the former regime – backed by the SCAF – that are determined to stay in the picture.
Merit Al-Sayed is a Projects Manager in the field of Strategic Planning and Performance Analysis at the Arab African International Bank based in Cairo. She is a founding member of two of Egypt’s post-revolutionary parties, El Adl and the Free Egyptians Party.