The Saudi royal family undoubtedly welcomed the decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of their strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally. The Saudis were horrified when Mubarak was toppled in 2011. The Egyptian dictator had been a consistent ally of the Kingdom for three decades even sending two divisions to defend it in 1990 when Iraq threatened to attack. Trying him for repressing demonstrations set an unwanted precedent for other Arab leaders.
The Kingdom supported the 2013 coup immediately, with the King publicly endorsing the putsch minutes after it took place. Riyadh has organized the Gulf states to bankroll the generals’ regime since — at a cost of billions. Getting Mubarak out of prison has been a Saudi priority ever since the coup.
The coup reversed the momentum of the Arab Spring and extinguished the most important experiment in Arab democracy ever, two key Saudi goals. The defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood was another major objective for Riyadh. The Saudis believe the coup substantially reduced the danger of unrest inside the Kingdom by terminating a dangerous role model.
Of course the Saudis now own the burden of keeping the generals in office, an expensive proposition especially when oil prices are dropping. King Abdallah’s son, National Guard commander Prince Mitab, told Asharq Al Awsat this week that the Kingdom will stand in solidarity with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and “legitimate institutions” in Egypt no matter the cost. Mitab, who has just returned to Riyadh from consultations in Washington which he suggested had been contentious, underscored the Kingdom’s determination to preserve “regional security” and stability against the Brotherhood and other terrorists.
Those who most need the protections of international human rights law — dissidents, journalists, civil society actors — these vulnerable people are used to operating in the knowledge that big governments out there in the world care. They don’t have that now.