LobeLog on Facebook LobeLog on Facebook

Analysis Army_Cairo_2011

Published on December 1st, 2014 | by Emile Nakhleh

3

Mubarak Acquitted as Egypt’s Counterrevolution Thrives

by Emile Nakhleh

The acquittal of former Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak is not a legal or political surprise. Yet it carries serious ramifications for Arab autocrats who are leading the counterrevolutionary charge, as well as the United States.

The court’s decision, announced Nov. 29 in Cairo, was the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Arab Spring and the Arab upheavals for justice, dignity, and freedom that rocked Egypt and other Arab countries in 2011.

Chief Judge Mahmud Kamel al-Rashidi, who read the acquittal decision, and his fellow judges on the panel are holdover from the Mubarak era.

The Egyptian judiciary, the Sisi military junta, and the pliant Egyptian media provided the backdrop to the court’s ruling, which indicates how a popular revolution can topple a dictator but not the regime’s entrenched levers of power.

Indeed, no serious observer of Egypt would have been surprised by the decision to acquit Mubarak and his cronies of the charges of killing dozens of peaceful demonstrators at Tahrir Square in January 2011.

Arab autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere have worked feverishly to stamp out all vestiges of the 2011 revolutions. They have used bloody sectarianism and the threat of terrorism to delegitimize popular protests and discredit demands for genuine political reform.

The acquittal put a legal imprimatur on the dictator of Egypt’s campaign to re-write history.

Following the 2013 coupe that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, who is still in jail facing various trumped up charges, Arab dictators cheered on former Field Marshall and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, lavishing him with billions of dollars. They parodied his narrative against the voices—secularists and Islamists alike—who cried out for good governance.

Regardless of how weak or solid the prosecution’s case against Mubarak was, the court’s ruling was not about law or legal arguments—from day one it was about politics and counter-revolution.

The unsurprising decision does, however, offer several critical lessons for the region and for the United States.

1. Removing a dictator is easier than dismantling his regime. Arab authoritarian regimes, whether dynasties or presidential republics, have perfected the art of survival, cronyism, systemic corruption, and control of potential opponents. They have used Islam for their cynical ends, urged the security service to silence the opposition, and encouraged the pliant media to articulate the regime’s narrative.

In order to control the “deep state” regime, Arab dictators in Egypt and elsewhere have created a pro-regime judiciary, dependable and well-financed military and security services, a compliant parliament, a responsive council of ministers, and supple and controlled media.

Autocrats have also ensured crucial loyalty through patronage and threats of retribution; influential elements within the regime see their power and influence as directly linked to the dictator.

The survival of both the dictator and the regime is predicated on the deeply held assumption that power-sharing with the public is detrimental to the regime and anathema to the country’s stability. This assumption has driven politics in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

In anticipating popular anger about the acquittal decision, Judge Rashidi had the temerity to publicly claim that the decision “had nothing to do with politics.” In reality, however, the decision had everything to do with a pre-ordained decision on the part of the Sisi regime to turn the page on the January 25 revolution.

2. Dictatorship is a risky form of governance. Authoritarian regimes across the Arab world are expected to welcome Mubarak’s acquittal and the Sisi regime’s decision to move away from the pro-democracy demands that rocked Egypt in January 2011.

Bahrain’s King Hamad, for example, called Mubarak the day the decision was announced to congratulate him, according to the official news agency of the Gulf Arab island nation.

The New York Times has also reported that the Sisi regime is confident that because of the growing disinterest in demonstrations and instability, absolving Mubarak would not rile up the Egyptian public.

If the Sisi regime’s reading of the public mood proves accurate, Arab autocrats would indeed welcome the Egyptian ruling with open arms, believing that popular protests on behalf of democracy and human rights would be, in the words of the Arabic proverb, like a “summer cloud that will soon dissipate.”

However, most students of the region believe Arab dictators’ support of the Sisi regime is shortsighted and devoid of any strategic assessment of the region.

Many regional experts also believe that popular frustration with regime intransigence and repression would lead to radicalization and increased terrorism.

The rise of Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is the latest example of how popular frustration, especially among Sunni Muslims, could drive a terrorist organization.

This phenomenon sadly has become all too apparent in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, and elsewhere. In response to popular resistance, however, the regimes in these countries have simply applied more repression and destruction.

Indeed, Sisi and other Arab autocrats have yet to learn the crucial lesson of the Arab Spring: People cannot be forced to kneel forever.

3. We are currently witnessing blowback from decades of misguided US policies in the region. Focused on Sisi’s policies toward his people, Arab autocrats seem less attentive to Washington’s policies in the region than they have been at any time in recent decades.

They judge American regional policies as rudderless and preoccupied with tactical developments.

Arab regimes and publics have heard lofty American speeches in support of democratic values and human rights, and then seen US politicians coddle dictators.

Time after time, autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria have also seen Washington’s tactical policies in the region trump American national values, resulting in less respect for the United States.

Yet while Mubarak’s acquittal might soon fade from the front pages of the Egyptian media, the Arab peoples’ struggle for human rights, bread, dignity, and democracy will continue.

Sisi believes the US still views his country as a critical ally in the region, especially because of its peace treaty with Israel, and therefore would not cut its military aid to Egypt despite its egregious human rights record. Based on this belief, Egypt continues to ignore the consequences of its own destructive policies.

Now might be the right time, however, for Washington to reexamine its own position toward Egypt and reassert its support for human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world.

If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

Photo: Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 8, 2011 Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer.

Print Friendly


About the Author

avatar

Dr. Emile Nakhleh was a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing State. He has written extensively on Middle East politics, political Islam, radical Sunni ideologies, and terrorism. His recent writings on terrorism and contemporary regional politics are posted on LobeLog.com (http://lobelog.com/author/emile-nakhleh/). Dr. Nakhleh received his BA from St. John’s University (MN), the MA from Georgetown University, and the Ph.D. from the American University. He and his wife live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.



3 Responses to Mubarak Acquitted as Egypt’s Counterrevolution Thrives

Show Comments →



  1. avatar Don Bacon says:

    “Now might be the right time, however, for Washington to reexamine its own position toward Egypt and reassert its support for human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world.”

    I believe that you have established very clearly, when US actions are taken into account, that the US in fact does not support human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact it never has done so.

    The primary US policy instead has been to support US political hegemony and US corporate interests in the Arab world and everywhere else. This has been true at least since the McKinley administration, which wasn’t recent.

  2. avatar Norman says:

    The last paragraph is the question, the one that in all honesty, won’t see the light of day, because there’s no one authority running the show. Too many interests, at odds with each other, are like the old saying: “too many cooks, spoil he soup”. Congress is going to be its own worse enemy, because it doesn’t seem to get it. All the members tripping over each other to appease the lobbyists who buy their votes, either don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t care. That includes the “O” administration too.

    Depending who you read, the decline of the U.S. may have reached the point of no return, as well as wasting more treasury on “no return for the buck”.

  3. avatar Virgile says:

    As long as the alternative to an authoritarian regime often called dictatorship is an Islamist government ruled by incompetent and religiously inclined individuals, there is no chance to avoid a return to the ‘stable’ old regime.
    Iran revolution has been able to eradicate the “old regime” under the leadership of an intelligent, charismatic, popular and highly respected individual, Ayatollah Khomeini and by the systematic physical elimination or exile of all the counter revolution elements. The Iranian revolutionaries took their lesson from the past . They have left no chance for another coup like the one organized by the CIA in 1953 that re-instated the Shah.
    The Arabs have not be able to produce any equivalent personality or even close to Ayatollah Khomeini. Small fish like Morsy or Marzouki have had no authority or charisma to allow the eradication of the old regime elements while keeping the country united. After failed attempts to create a naive Islamist based regime, not supported by the masses but by the money of some rich Arab states, we are watching the return of the old regime in Egypt, Tunisia.
    It is certain that ISIS execesses has contributed greatly to demonize revolutionary Islam. Islamism have become an undesirable and suspicious option for any future government in the region, including Syria, Libya or Yemen.
    There is nothing that can prevent the return and the persistence of the old regime elements. In the absence of another cure, they are perceived as an antidote to Islamism.

Back to Top ↑
  • Categories


  • Subscribe to LobeLog

    Enter your email address to subscribe to our site and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Popular Posts