As Donald Trump kept grabbing international headlines following his inauguration as US president in January, a lot of crucial news about other international political figures has been drowned out.
Among the news that went largely unnoticed is the decision by an Egyptian court earlier this month to acquit the nation’s former ruler Hosni Mubarak of charges of involvement in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
Following the ruling by Egypt’s top appeals court, Mubarak is now once again a free man.
While Egyptian people have mixed feelings about the exoneration of Mubarak, political observers specializing in Middle East affairs around the world are keeping a close eye on the former military strongman and trying to predict his next move.
In fact the trial of Mubarak that went on for nearly six years was quite a dramatic episode in itself. Back in May 2011, almost immediately after he had been forced to step down, Mubarak was brought to trial for suspected involvement in the killing of anti-government protesters, as well as for abuse of power and corruption.
After a series of long-drawn-out court hearings, Mubarak eventually confessed to some graft charges, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
However, as far as the much more serious charge of mass murder of protesters is concerned, Mubarak had remained defiant throughout the trial and continued to plead not guilty, and the trial soon ground to a halt.
It wasn’t until the Egyptian prosecution backed down and changed the charge against Mubarak, in 2012, into “conniving at police brutality and causing the deaths of hundreds of protesters” that the trial against him re-opened.
At the initial trial Mubarak was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, after which he immediately filed an appeal while he was held in custody.
The first appeal hearing took place in 2013, during which Mubarak was allowed to be released from custody and placed under house arrest. The murder trial soon turned out to be a slow-boiling political saga, with Mubarak insisting on his innocence even in the presence of substantial evidence against him.
While most people in Egypt believed Mubarak would be convicted and nailed at last, as it seemed that all the odds were stacked against him, things suddenly took a rather dramatic and unexpected turn in 2014, when the Egyptian supreme court overturned the guilty verdict against him on grounds of technical mistakes made by the prosecution during the trial.
And finally, after three years of re-examination, the Egyptian authorities announced recently that they had decided to drop all charges against Mubarak.
In fact to a certain extent, the dramatic developments in Mubarak’s murder trial and his almost miraculous exoneration in the end are a reflection of the continued political chaos and people’s growing ambivalence about liberal democracy in the Middle East six years after the Arab Spring movement.
The continued political turbulence and poor economy since 2011 have led to widespread disillusionment with democracy among the Egyptian people, and many Egyptians are once again looking to another political strongman like Mubarak to restore order and stability to society.
That explains why General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the then hard-line defense minister who had overthrown the highly unpopular Muslim Brotherhood regime and assumed power, was re-elected as president in 2014 with a whopping approval rating of 96.9 percent.
Although the Egyptian economy has remained sluggish under president Abdel over the past three years, according to a poll in January, half of the Egyptians still approve of him and his style of government.
As a matter of fact, six years after the Arab Spring uprising, many people in the Middle East, leaders and average individuals alike, have started to reflect on the movement itself and its implications. And an increasing number of people who were once staunch supporters of the democratic cause have become disenchanted with the whole idea of Western-style democracy.
No wonder in Libya, more and more people have started missing the overthrown Muammar Gaddafi, who might go down in history among Libyans in the days ahead not as a cruel dictator but rather as a misunderstood and tragic hero.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 17
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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