Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Mubarak on Trial: Lying While Lying on a Gurney
Today the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal began at the Police Academy on the outskirts of Cairo. This is a historic moment for Egypt and for MENA countries. For the first time an Arab dictator, and not just his Minister of the Interior, is seen being tried in a court of law on charges of corruption and of killing protesters. An Egyptian journalist interviewed on the BBC pointed out that a poll showed 70% of the Egyptian population felt it was important for them to see Mubarak on trial.
Mubarak and his sons all denied all charges. Mubarak did so from a hospital gurney, while his two sons stood before him, in a cage in the centre of the courtroom. This cage-like holding cell is a feature of certain trials in Egypt, particularly military ones, as this one is.
The date of the trial had been postponed a number of times, due to Mubarak's health, and the venue changed a number of times in the lead up to this day. Finally, it was determined that the Police Academy outside of downtown Cairo would be the most secure and least disruptive place to hold the trial. It is harder to reach than a downtown location, and protesters gathering there cause less disruption to already congested downtown Cairo traffic.
Protesters, both pro- and anti-Mubarak, did demonstrate in front of the Police Academy. They also clashed with each other and tested the police force. Mubarak supporters bore pictures of the strong, healthy looking Mubarak in a power suit--a sharp contrast to the ill, feeble, aged man draped in white sheets, no longer striding but being rolled along.
Mubarak's age, health problems, and physical and mental fragility have resulted in some Western articles criticizing bringing him to justice in a formal court proceeding. Then again, the West dawdled on asking him to step down, or taking action to encourage that. President Obama was particularly good at desperately pleading for Mubarak to institute reform--the subtext being, "Do something so we can continue to support you in power".
However, that is a problem with dictators and brutes generally, isn't it? That they have the force and support to stay in power until they are old and physically ill. Then they have the power and resources to evade justice a while longer. That doesn't mean they should, however. Justice is (supposedly) blind, and for certain crimes (against humanity) there is no statute of limitations.
Others have commented that Mubarak is not bad as dictators go, at least in comparison to Libya's Gaddafi and Syria's Al-Assad. They seem to have impaired long and short term memory--forgetting the decades of repression, censorship, brutality, torture, and corruption, or the violence against peaceful protestors of Egypt's January 15 revolution. Anti-Mubarak protesters at his trial bore photos of Khaled Saeed, arrested from an internet cafe and beaten to death by police in a nearby building, and of other martyrs of the Egyptian Spring.
Denying all charges, in other words claiming innocence of all charges, is the first lie from Mubarak lying on his gurney. Self-defense is understandable, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. However, as the trial proceeds, there will be more lies, no doubt.