<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
As the trial of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, began this week, many were incredulous at the events unfolding before their eyes. Judging from reactions on the street and the in the media, both in Egypt and abroad, there is little sympathy for the man who for over three decades ruled Egypt with an iron fist. While some issued calls for balance and real justice, most were just happy that Mubarak would finally face judgment for his deeds.
The sentiment expressed in most Gulf newspapers was one of measured celebration. The Peninsula editorial acknowledges that the development is “a scene most Egyptians loved to see: Hosni Mubarak in a courtroom cage in full public view, watched by the whole world, as helpless as a common man, a political activist or a dissident whom he had harassed and subjected to public humiliation when he was the omnipotent ruler of Egypt….Mubarak deserves punishment for the crimes he has committed against Egyptians.”
However, the editorial also cautions, “This is a trial that is being watched worldwide, especially in Arab capitals, and must be conducted fairly and transparently. Mubarak doesn’t have to be humiliated further, and so the law must take its course dispassionately. The misdeeds of Mubarak must be listed and exposed, and emotions need to be kept aside. If the Egyptian uprising has been a benchmark for other Arab revolutions, Mubarak’s trial too should become one. For that, it needs to be a fair trial.”
Aware of the potential for mishaps, UAE’s The National also cautions, “Mr. Mubarak's trial will do more harm than good if it degenerates into political theatre….This trial will be watched closely, and not just because of justice for the Mubaraks….This court case, and its eventual verdict, will have a significant bearing on the continuing unrest in other Arab countries. Already autocrats will be looking at this trial — and Tunisia's Zine El Abedine Ben Ali's trials in absentia — as a gauge of their own futures. Some will also probably still be weighing the "Qaddafi option" when faced with unrest. It is far too early to predict how this drama will be resolved. What is sure is that more is at stake than the future of one old man on a hospital stretcher.”
In a nod to the youth-led demonstrations that made this historic transformation possible, the Khaleej Times editorial notes, “The Arab Spring can now be felt as former president Hosni Mubarak, his sons and henchmen stand trial. This is the moment of glory for the proud Egyptians, whose 18 days of tribulations have made a dream come true....Notwithstanding how this trial lives up to the hopes and aspirations of the people, the need of the hour is to ensure that justice is done....While the trial goes on, the government should not lose focus on its prime task of holding free and fair general elections. Making inroads on the basis of amendments that the interim setup plans to bring to the constitution, this is the time when the aspirations of the people should triumph at the ballot, and in the dock.”
It is this triumph of “justice over power” that, according to Rami Khouri, matters the most. In an op-ed for the Lebanese Daily Star, Khouri stresses the symbolic importance of the trial: “Nothing like this sort of cleansing and rebirth has ever been experienced in the Arab world during the past century, since the modern Arab state system was born….The Mubarak trial is a special moment for many reasons, but one stands out above all the rest: It reassures Egyptians and Arabs that an essential building block of a democratic and equitable new Egyptian system is already in place — a fair and independent justice system....We should bear in mind, though, that the return of the tribunal, and the rule of law, to Egyptian life, rather than the demise of the accused, was the really important story, and a lesson that will endure.”
The two main Saudi dailies are a bit more measured in their enthusiasm. The Saudi Gazette editorial asserts, “Mubarak deserves humane treatment,” adding, “The images coming out of Egypt of former president Hosni Mubarak at his first day on trial are unnerving, to say the least.…He was an extremely powerful man for decades, and to see him lying in a hospital bed inside a cage in an Egyptian courtroom is startling….Emotions are obviously running high in Egypt as exemplified by conditions in the courtroom....Whatever the outcome of the trial, there must be a better way to present it. To put a man on trial for, essentially, crimes against humanity, and to wheel him into a courtroom, bed-ridden in a mesh-fence cage and suffering from cancer does not come across as an example of humanity at its best....[T]he ultimate goal of a trial, no matter what the case, is not revenge but justice. The images coming out of Egypt suggest that the Egyptians are dwelling on revenge instead.”
The Arab News editorial questions the morality of the decision to subject a former head of state to such a trial: “It might be a supremely immoral one if it is a case of a new regime out to curry favor with the public or motivated by a desire for revenge. In Mubarak’s case (as in Ben Ali’s) the picture is not simple. The Egyptian political establishment was more than just him and his family. He was at its apex and, as such, his trial is immensely important as well as symbolic....While many Egyptians did not expect this trial to happen, they suspect that there are some in the new leadership who want to pin all the blame on him rather than the wider group of which they were part. That is further reason for suspecting that the Egyptian revolution is as yet an unfinished affair.”
The Saudi media are not the only ones that wonder about the implications of the trial for the military regime. Gwynne Dyer in op-ed for Jordan Times is quick to point out, “[G]iven that the soldiers are still in charge, most Egyptians are still stunned to see it actually happening....Most Egyptians therefore never expected to see Mubarak on trial in open court, but the military have their own interests to defend. During 57 years of thinly disguised military rule they have built up an enormously lucrative presence in housing complexes, banking, and all sorts of other non-military activities. They also get a huge share of the country’s budget. The country’s senior officers realise that they have to make a deal with at least some of the civilian political forces in post-Mubarak Egypt if they want to keep their privileges.”
However, as Seyyed Abdolamir Nabavi of Tehran Times reminds us, “Egypt’s Supreme Military Council is facing a dilemma. On the one hand, the council is trying to placate the people who want former government officials promptly brought to trial, but on the other hand, it must address the fact that the Egyptian economy is actually on the verge of collapse....Some of the rich Arab states, in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, have agreed to provide financial assistance and make investments to help Egypt’s economy. However, the assistance will be provided based on some terms and conditions, namely that the trials of Mubarak and his family should not be too intense.”
Back in Egypt, however, people are still fixed on what Mubarak’s trial means for the future of the country and the region. Rania Al Malky notes on Egypt’s The Daily News, “For the first time in history an Arab leader, overthrown in a leaderless mass uprising, is subjected to a public civil trial aired live all over the world….From today onwards, no Egyptian president, whoever he may be, will dare take the Egyptian people for granted. No matter what the outcome of this trial and no matter what our next constitution will look like, today has proven that Egyptians have already written their own constitution, one of zero tolerance to tyranny, subjugation and violation of human rights.”
That is not to say that everyone is happy about how the trial is proceeding. As Noha El-Hennawy reports on the Egyptian Al Masry al Youm, “Observers voiced mixed feelings over former President Hosni Mubarak’s trial on Wednesday, hailing the incident as historic, but at the same time saying the scope of charges should be widened to include all of the crimes he allegedly perpetrated during three decades in power.... For Ahmed Ragheb, head of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the allegations against the former president are not comprehensive enough. ‘Mubarak is responsible for torturing [Egyptians] for 30 years, stealing public money and political and economic corruption. He should be tried for all these crimes,’ he said.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.