Skip to main content

Mubarak’s Trial: Coda to a Revolution

On Saturday morning, a Cairo judge threw out, on procedural grounds, a set of charges against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stemming from the 2011 revolution — including charges that he was responsible for the deaths of Egyptian protestors shot by police during the January 25th uprising. For a complex set of reasons, Mubarak is likely to be released from prison soon despite having been convicted earlier on unrelated corruption charges.

For those confused by the seemingly endless raft of charges, dismissals, convictions, acquittals, and retrials that have largely kept former president Hosni Mubarak in prison since the 2011 revolution, I point you to a very useful FAQ from Hossam Baghat, formerly of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Mada Masr.

The judge’s decision does not surprise Egypt’s legal professionals, who have been aware for a long time of the weaknesses in how these charges were filed and the evidence provided to back them up. It also does not surprise cynics who see the “vindication” of Mubarak as a culmination of the counterrevolution that began over a year ago with the demonstrations against then-President Mohammed Morsi, the military takeover, and the election of just-retired General Abdelfattah al-Sisi as president. It’s important to note that this legal outcome is not a vindication — Mubarak was not acquitted of the charges. For many observers, the trial outcome is symbolic of the broad trajectory of Egypt’s post-revolutionary politics — wherein the January 25th revolution has moved from a noble popular uprising to a dark foreign conspiracy, pluralistic politics has moved from an expression of public will to a danger to social solidarity, and domestic repression has moved from a moral outrage to a moral good.

But perhaps more concretely, the trial’s outcome is symbolic of a broken, enfeebled justice system where outcomes often seem arbitrary and where prosecutors and judges often seem to follow public sentiment — first heeding calls for blood by charging the former president on hastily constructed evidence, then dismissing the charges after three years of chaos made Mubarak’s thirty years of dictatorship look rosy in retrospect. The biased workings of this system are also evident in the fact that this judge properly dismissed Mubarak’s charges on technical grounds, whereas preposterously flimsy and/or irrelevant evidence and testimony were allowed to stand in the conviction of three journalists this year and the convictions of 43 NGO workers in 2013. In some ways, this broken system is just one small example of the broken Egyptian state that is the legacy of Mubarak’s long rule. As one Egyptian tweeted today:

So today’s news is a sad reminder for many Egyptians of what’s become of their hopes for a post-Mubarak Egypt. But perhaps the most deeply affected are the families of the more than 800 Egyptians killed in the January 25th revolution. These young men and women are often referred to as martyrs to the calls for “bread, freedom and social justice” that drove the uprising against Mubarak. With today’s decision, their families confront a future without the dream their loved ones died for, and also without justice for their deaths.

Get daily updates from Brookings