When deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons were indicted in April 2011, legal observers cynically noted that the charges were not only politically motivated in order to quiet the massive demonstrations demanding their trial, but also that they were so weak that the trial might have been designed to end in acquittals.
Initially, 11 people were indicted on two sets of charges. The first batch included Mubarak, his two sons, and his old friend and former intelligence officer turned businessman, Hussein Salem. Salem came to prominence after the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, when he became the point man in Egypt for the American aid that poured in as a result of the Camp David accords.
At the time, Hussein was acting as a private contractor, receiving tens of millions of dollars in commissions related to the American military and economic aid. By the mid 1980s, the Pentagon was so concerned with his financial corruption and over-billing that it threatened to indict him unless he was removed from the process. He was subsequently barred from entering the U.S.
Hussein then focused on domestic business ventures, constructing massive tourist resorts on the Red Sea, especially at Sharm Al-Sheikh, attracting European and American tourists. In exchange for getting prime land from the state for his projects on the cheap, he gave Mubarak and his sons five villas at practically no cost. This transaction that took place in the 1990s was the basis of the first set of charges against the Mubarak family for corruption and exchanging influence for financial gain. It should also be mentioned that it was Hussein that owned the private company that bought Egyptian natural gas and sold it to Israel at significantly below market prices, pocketing tens of millions of dollars as a result. Several former Mubarak aids believe that his sons were also silent partners on this incredible deal. For many years the Mubarak regime protected this inequitable transaction before it was scrapped this year under public pressure.
Out of the billions of dollars illegally made by the Mubaraks over the years, the state prosecutor (who himself was also appointed by Mubarak) chose this rotten but insignificant deal from the 90s to indict the former ruling family, knowing fully well that in Egypt the statute of limitation is three years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies.
The second set of charges were against Mubarak's security people led by former interior minister Gen. Habib Al-Adly and six of his most brutal senior assistants, including the heads of State Security, Central Security, as well as Cairo and Giza Security apparatuses. It was these security agencies, with over three hundred thousand officers, that cracked down on the protesters killing more than one thousand in the early days of the revolution in January 2011.
Although the two sets of charges on their face were unrelated, they were deliberately joined together in order to give the appearance that Mubarak and his sons were tried because of the security crackdown. But the revolutionary youth took to the streets in April and May of last year, forcing the state prosecutor to include Mubarak on the second set of charges of ordering and conspiring to kill the protesters.
Dating back to the nineteenth century, Egypt's judiciary is considered one of the oldest modern judiciary systems in the world, earning a fine reputation and an independent tradition. However, as in every authoritarian regime, senior judges were appointed for decades by a dictatorial president so that they could rule in favor of his regime at crucial times. During the past year the world has witnessed how Mubarak-appointed senior judges corrupted the judicial process for political purposes at crucial moments.
One example was manifested this year during the stand-off between Egypt's state prosecutors and the United States after the indictment of 19 American pro-democracy workers. They were charged with operating several unregistered organizations that interfered in the Egyptian political process. In the midst of the pre-trial hearings and under tremendous pressure from the U.S. government, the head of Cairo's Appeals Court called the chief prosecutor and pressured him to grant the Americans bail. Within two hours of the Americans posting bail, they were smuggled outside Egypt on an American military plane, escaping their day in court. Interestingly, the Republican-led House of Representatives has subsequently deducted the $5 million bail from this fiscal year's aid to Egypt.
Another example of compromised judges is the head of the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). Constitutionally, the PEC in Egypt is made up of five senior judicial positions, and is headed by the Chief Justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. That man is Justice Farouk Sultan. Traditionally the head of the highest court in the country is its most senior justice. But not this time. Sultan was a military judge for many years but Mubarak promoted him within a three-year period to first head a district court in 2006, and then appointed him as the head of the Supreme Court in 2009. Many legal and political experts believe that Mubarak chose him for that position in order to orchestrate the rise of his son, Gamal to the presidency that was supposed to have taken place in 2011 had Mubarak survived.
During the recent presidential elections, the PEC received some 20 appeals from various presidential candidates. But the only one accepted was the appeal of Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. As the last prime minister of the Mubarak regime, Shafiq was barred from politics for 10 years by parliament in March of this year. However, Sultan and the PEC ruled that this law was unconstitutional although the commission did not have the legal authority to overturn the law, as it was administrative in nature and not judicial (despite being comprised of judges).
As Mubarak's trial (dubbed in Egypt as "The Trial of the Century") was underway, the political charade became more transparent. The Mubarak-appointed judge Ahmad Rifaat, who chaired the three-judge panel overseeing the trial, refused to transfer Mubarak to the prison hospital and instead kept him in a military hospital where he enjoyed the perks of a former president. He allowed several senior Mubarak officials to testify, including former Vice President Omar Suleiman, military chief and Egypt's effective ruler since Feb. 2011, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, as well as two former interior ministers.
All of these witnesses tried to absolve Mubarak from any culpability in the security crackdown on the peaceful protesters. Court records released recently show that whenever the frustrated prosecutors tried to get details by asking these senior officials probing questions or through demonstrating inconsistencies in their testimonies, the presiding judge would interrupt and not allow the questioning to proceed. As the trial ended last February, Judge Rifaat said he would announce his ruling on the trial on June 2, in the midst of the presidential elections.
Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over the reign of power in the country in February of last year promising a transition to democracy, the struggle has been between two conflicting visions for Egypt. The revolutionaries, who comprise large segments of Egyptian society including Islamic and secular groups, aspire to a new democratic Egypt, raising the slogans of freedom, dignity, and social justice. On the other hand, those who benefited from the corruption of the Mubarak regime including influential politicians from the now-banned National Democratic Party (NDP), crooked businesspeople, and the beneficiaries of the security state, called in Egypt, the fulool or remnants of the former regime, long for the days when they ruled and ripped off the country with total impunity.
For most of last year, the fulool laid low waiting for a ripe opportunity for a comeback. They relied on the military council to ride the revolutionary spirit until the public became exhausted with a weary process that addressed little of their daily struggles. Meanwhile, the military allowed basically free and fair parliamentary elections, resulting in the Islamic parties gaining about 75 percent of the seats. But despite the decisive outcome, the military refused to change the government that comprised Mubarak-era ministers, while the state media relentlessly attacked the new parliament as being ineffective in solving people's daily hardships. In fact, the economic situation became much worse in recent months as basic goods became scarce including bread and cooking oil, while gas prices hit the roof. Furthermore, security became a major problem as crime rates in Egypt jumped significantly higher than any time in modern Egyptian history.