The anniversary of Mubarak’s resignation is a reminder of Egypt’s entrenched impunity
On 11 February 2011 then Vice-President Omar Suleiman informed thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square that President Muhammed Hosni Mubarak was relinquishing office and handing power to the military. “May God guide our steps,” he said, concluding the announcement.
Hundreds and thousands of demonstrators, who had spent the last 18 days of Egypt’s heady uprising waiting for this moment, roared with approval. They raised flags and their chant, “down with the regime”, became “we have brought down the regime”.
Back then many believed Mubarak’s resignation meant that Egypt was free; Egyptians would be able to choose their own leaders and the country was finally on the path to democracy. Mubarak was put on trial for conspiring to kill protesters – finally, justice would be served.
During his court case the former president and his sons gazed out from behind the bars of a cage, a humiliation many would never have dared to think possible throughout his 30-year rule over the country, during which he imprisoned opponents without trial, allowed corruption to flourish and refused to lift martial law.
But victory was short lived. Over the years that followed, as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted in a coup and military strongman Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi rose to power, it became more and more likely Mubarak would face a pardon, rather than a prison cell.
As the military muscled themselves back into Egyptian politics, many foresaw the return of the deep state – the pillars of the ancien regime, which collectively maintained privilege for a select few. The mukhabaraat, the police, the judiciary and the media are all part of this deep state, but none has more influence than the military.
The Egyptian army has often been described as a state within a state. They own many of their own enterprises – hospitals, clubs, restaurants, factories and hotels – the profits of which are fed back into the army. Estimates have placed the share of the economy controlled by the military as high as 40 per cent. It is in their interest, therefore, to protect all of this.
It was the 2011 revolution that drew back the curtain on just how tight a grip the army had on Egyptian society; but the military has dictated events long before this. Since 1952, when the Free Officers overthrew the British backed monarchy, only those who have passed through the military system have gone on to rule Egypt.
With this in mind, the fact that Mubarak was preparing his son, Gamal, to step into his shoes when the time came would have disgruntled the army for Gamal was no military man. In addition to this the former president was accused of opening up the economy to private businesses, which was undermining the military’s monopoly.
Along with increasing pressure from the protesters these factors made it easy for the army to sacrifice Mubarak in 2011; but rather than disappearing, as his resignation suggested, the army simply waited in the wings to reinstate their control over Egypt. When they did they couldn’t release the former president – too many people would object – but the punishment wouldn’t be too harsh; he was, after all, one of them.
Sure enough, in November 2014 the Cairo Criminal Court found the case against Mubarak to be groundless, citing procedural irregularities. At the same time his former interior minister, Habib Al-Adly, and six former interior ministry officials were acquitted.
The only successful charge to stand against Mubarak is that of corruption. But even that was only afforded a three-year prison sentence and in 2015 a judge declared this to be complete. A year later the New York Times published an article about conditions inside Maadi Military Hospital where Mubarak is being detained. It sounded far from the animal infested cells where members of the opposition are currently held and tortured – Mubarak enjoys regular deliveries of flowers, newspapers, takeaways, visits from his wife, two sons and grandchildren, and a sweeping view of the Nile.
Authorities have also failed to hold many of Mubarak’s cronies accountable for their actions. Business tycoon Hussein Salem has been poised to return to Egypt for months. Having fled the country in 2011 Salem was charged in absentia to 15 years in prison and fined $4bn for money laundering and profiteering. Salem has now reached a reconciliation agreement with the Egyptian government for the sum of $596.5mn so that the corruption charges are waived and his family can return to Egypt without fear of prosecution.
Six years after he resigned, the failure to hold Mubarak to account for killing protesters during Egypt’s 18-day uprising is symbolic of the culture of impunity enjoyed by officials in Egypt. This culture of impunity is made all the more poignant when it is contrasted with the crackdown currently being administered against the opposition in the country.
In August 2013 a judge sentenced 37 people to death and 491 to life imprisonment for killing a single police officer. Yet not one member of the security forces, or a public official, has faced charges for the massacre of up to 1,000 protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square that took place in the same month.
In the early days of the revolution people across the world believed that Mubarak’s resignation meant freedom and an end to the impunity he fostered throughout his thirty years in power. In fact, it was just the beginning.
Published in The New Arab