The latest news from Cairo is that ousted president Hosni Mubarak is to face trial all over again, both on charges from which he was acquitted a year ago (corruption) and on those he was convicted on (the killing of demonstrators). The retrial was ordered speedily, even strangely, by the standards of Western legal procedure.
Nothing about it is clear and nobody can reliably interpret what happened. It could be presented as a legal victory for Mubarak. At the same time, it might well be another vindictive move to distract the public from its daily woes and from the undeniable failings of the new administration. The latter is the likelier explanation.
It is less plausible that the elderly and ill Mubarak won a court battle and that the Egyptian legal establishment gave him an even break in defiance of the country’s new Muslim overlords, whose antagonism to Mubarak is no secret. Egypt’s judiciary was never independent of government manipulation and is less likely now than ever to take on the powers that be.
The Muslim Brotherhood regime under Mohamed Morsi had altogether stifled the courts by pronouncing Morsi immune from judicial scrutiny. Morsi handily won a referendum on the issue.
Mubarak’s first trial (despite its mixed verdict and life imprisonment instead of capital punishment) bore all the hallmarks of a show trial, which serves the propaganda purposes of the rulers, is geared to intimidate would-be dissidents and whose verdict and retributive sentences have been pre-determined.
The odds are that we are in for another show trial, more entertainment for the masses and more fodder for the mob. Egypt will be hurled back to the trauma of two years ago and its new leaders probably hope that this will ease the pressure on them.
The international community does not seem to care. Although they once honored and feted Mubarak, world leaders abruptly changed tack, branded him a tyrannical ogre and cheered his opponents as harbingers of the “Arab Spring.” The truth is that while hardly a democratic paragon, Mubarak was not the worst of Mideastern autocrats.
Furthermore, Morsi, who has officially put himself above the law, has seen demonstrators killed under his watch as well. Then there are his radical Muslim proclivities, including his recently disclosed past comments where he exhorted his compatriots to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred.” Elsewhere, he depicted Jews and Zionists as “bloodsuckers” and as “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
The so-called “Arab Spring” has evolved into something that ought to trouble the free world deeply and not be put out of mind and off the global agenda. It is not Mubarak’s fate that is important here but the rubber-stamp decisions produced by judges, in all probability after behind-the-scenes collusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s still potent military establishment. The latter remain a factor to be reckoned with even if its aging top echelon has been sacrificed.
The revolution did not change what was amiss in Egypt. Under Mubarak, the judges did his bidding.
Under Morsi and his new constitution, the judges have resumed obeying orders from above.
The more things change the more they stay the same, regardless of the gross misperceptions and mesmerized wishful thinking in Western Europe and America. Politicians with axes to grind, academicians and opinion-molders appear to believe that democracy can be instantly conjured.
But democracy is not defined by screaming throngs in the streets – vehement protests can be readily orchestrated by anti-democratic agitators. Democracy is not solely defined by elections – many a despot has taken power apparently via the ballot box. Democracy is a far more complex composite, which includes an unbridled critical press, fearless free expression and – foremost – protecting the lot, a truly autonomous judiciary.
The Obama administration and the EU appear to have been ignored all this in their alacrity to embrace Morsi. The Mubarak retrial constitutes another reminder that we have reason to worry.