Although I would like to demonstrate my faith in democratic processes, I would have to say that I think it is highly unlikely that Mubarak’s trial will be remotely fair.
This is not an assessment of the fairness of the Egyptian legal system, or the good will of the Judge, prosecution or defence, though I guess there may be good reasons to at least question such things. I think however, that whatever the niceties of the legal processes, that there are very powerful forces at work.
The difficulty is that Mubarak’s tenure as president was essentially a dictatorship, it might be argued that as far as dictatorships go, his rule fell at the more benign end of the continuum, but it was in essence a dictatorship nonetheless.
A theme of Dictatorships is often that in practice they are more truthfully Oligarchies: a small but powerful group ruling in their own interests. In a dictatorship this group is fearful and obedient to the will of the dictator, but also capable of influencing the rulers decisions, benefiting from the dictators rule, and able to exercise control within their role in the dictators power structure.
This is not strictly speaking the definition of Oligarchy, I am principally arguing that in practice there are huge similarities between how Oligarchies and dictatorships function.
In this case, I am not convinced that the powerful inner circle of Mubarak, has been disengaged from the systemic power they held under his rule, rather I suspect they are hiding behind the ‘emergency’ military rule, necessitated by the protests of February. Although I think the Egyptian Military as a whole is more aligned with the Egyptian people, I strongly suspect many within the top echelons are entangled with Mubarak’s associates. This group also has it’s supporters throughout the power structure, those who have benefited, benefited from and served the power structure for decades We can categorise this group as those who want things to stay pretty much the same as they have always been.
It does not seem to me that the opposing group has, as yet, acquired significant systemic power or authority to directly influence the power games within Egyptian bureaucracy. Though since they appear to make up the majority of the population based on the numbers they can call on, to protest in the streets, they do have a ’moral’ and practical authority which is by the very nature of the conflict in Egypt, in contention with the first group I discussed. We can categorise this group as the group that wants change.
There is, as within all conflicts between the old and the new, a third group, these are the opportunists, those who will take advantage of weaknesses of both sides and capitalise on the strengths of both sides to enhance and promote their own agendas, which are usually singularly self serving.
There are various problems for Mubarak and his sons, not least that most of the people who want change, (Who are for the most part ‘The People’) want the heads of the Mubarak’s on a pike in Tahir Square, that it did not happen some time ago is tribute to the more level headed, and democratically minded among the party of change.
Another problem for the ex-Dictator is that his former allies are trying to cling to power, and are having nightmares about their own heads on Pikes, so are looking to how to appease the mob, whilst preserving their own positions. This means that whatever loyalties they might feel towards their former leader, their inclination, and more importantly their opportunities to support him directly are severely curtailed. Their position is not helped by the inevitable presence and activities of the opportunists.
The opportunists are the most dangerous group for Mubarak, since they will be inclined to play both sides against each other. Support for the ex-president, from those who want things to stay the same, will be capitalised on by the opportunists to weaken those within the power structure. And the opportunists will offer their support to the incumbent authorities, in order to enhance their own position, the price of such support will naturally be, at a very minimum, the metaphorical head of Mubarak and his sons, their best hope is that all the shenanigans and power politics will keep their real heads on their shoulders.
All in all this will put an immense strain on both the legal process and those responsible for enacting this process. The strength of public opinion suggests to me that a ‘not guilty’ verdict is next to impossible, the strength of the story means that if anything but a ‘guilty’ verdict is handed down, foul play will not only be suspected, but that it will be regarded as a fact, evidence or not, and this might have dire consequences for the next period of Egyptian History.
So I conclude that this trial has no hope of being even remotely fair.
However I am not certain that this matters. If the system makes every effort to appear fair, and attempts to set precedents for future legal processes, particularly in the context of transparency and is seen by the people to, ‘do it’s best’ then there is every likelihood that it will be seen as ‘good enough’ by all concerned.
Revolutions are not tidy processes, there is I think a tendency among people, in the west at least, to imagine, that when ‘the people’ throw off the chains of their oppressors, that this is the end of the story. That democratic processes take hold and everyone lives happily ever after. Unfortunately things are rarely so clear cut. The Russian and Chinese revolutions led in a few short years to authoritarian rule. The French revolution suffered the reign of terror, and Napoleons megalomania. The American revolution turned out to be only for white people for far to long.
Even the more benign revolutions have had their problems, South Africa, has managed far better than many, but given the current political situation, there are uncertainties about how things will develop, particularly after Mandela dies, I strongly suspect he is living on through an effort of personal will, knowing that his death will be an important moment in the history of a multi racial south Africa.
But the Russians experienced a second revolution led by a man the west now reveres, but the Russians barely tolerate, Gorbachev, the Americans eventually got the idea that racial equality was essential. The French stopped lopping heads off. Democracy and the rule of law, are not things that instantaneously take over a nation, they are things that are seeded, take root, and grow over time.
Mubarak put himself on trial, it lasted thirty years, the jury were the Egyptian public, they have delivered their verdict, it bodes well for Democracy and the rule of law in Egypt, that they have had the restraint to stay sentencing, so that Justice can also be seen to be done.
It might not be a fair trial, but I suspect that in the end it will be a just one.