Uncertainty about Mubarak accountability stirs Egyptians

Opposition groups in Egypt call for "Day of Purification," demanding former president be swiftly tried.

April 7, 2011 20:46
3 minute read.
Pro-democracy protesters gather in Tahrir Square

Pro-democracy protesters gather in Tahrir Square 311 Reut. (photo credit: Peter Andrews / Reuters)


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Eight weeks after he was forced to step down as Egypt's President, 83-year-old Hosni Mubarak is in limbo. Placed under house arrest in the Sinai resort town of Sharm Al-Sheikh, Mubarak is caught between a people who demand his immediate trial as the symbol of a corrupt regime, and a conservative old guard that wishes to preserve the previous order.

As the new Egyptian government continues to arrest former ministers on allegations of corruption, most recently the minister of housing, a coalition of grassroots opposition groups announced that Friday, April 8, will be a "day of trial and purification.” They have called for mass demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests that brought down Mubarak's regime on February 11. The demand to try Mubarak and his close circle topped the list of eight demands drafted by the coalition for Friday's agenda.

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The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's leading Islamist opposition group, called on its adherents to take part in Friday's demonstrations in order to swiftly try Mubarak and "the symbols of his regime," especially those who were implicated in using violence against demonstrators.

"There is no need to search for evidence of these crimes, after the whole world witnessed the use of deliberate violence and the intentional killing of hundreds of Egyptians by sniper fire," the Brotherhood statement read.

Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian social activist and journalist with Daily News Egypt, said that this one demand had united the politically fragmented Egyptian society.

"Everyone wants Mubarak tried," Fahim told The Media Line. "Whether Egyptians will go out and protest for that remains to be seen."

Fahim said that the army has so far been responsive to popular demands to arrest elements of the former regime, adding that Mubarak could be tried if the people resolutely demanded it.

In an overt attempt to demonstrate sectarian unity, Friday's "Day of Purification" is set to begin with the singing of Coptic hymns followed by 15 speeches of public figures who took part in Egypt's revolution, Al-Ahram daily reported. It stressed that no presidential candidates would speak at the event.

Sobhy Essaila, a researcher at the Al-Ahram center for political and strategic studies in Cairo, warned that Egyptians were becoming addicted to revolutions, demanding immediate solutions rather than focusing on long-term goals.

"The demonstrators are creating fear in order to maintain the revolutionary atmosphere," Essaila told The Media Line. "The other day they said they were demonstrating just to show their presence. It's ridiculous." 

Essaila added that the protesters' focus on individual accountability rather than tackling Egypt's culture of political corruption was devastating the country.

"People want to get back to normal. The effort should be cleaning up the public atmosphere and not prosecuting this or that individual," he said. "But doing that takes time, and Egyptian culture doesn't work well with the long term."  
On March 21, European Union governments agreed to freeze Mubarak's assets in Europe after Switzerland froze his bank accounts the day he stepped down. Egypt's military rulers have set up a committee to search for the former leader's hidden assets worldwide with Egypt being first to freeze Mubarak's assets, estimated at up to $70 billion.

On Wednesday the Egyptian government established a committee to survey all assets belonging to Mubarak's National Democratic Party in preparation for nationalizing them, the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Youm reported. Egypt's Illicit Gains Authority said it would question Gamal Mubarak, son of the deposed president, next week on corruption charges.

Conflicting reports regarding Mubarak's fate began to emerge this week. Some Arab newspapers quoted Egypt's Military Council chief Muhammad Hussein Tantawi as saying that "important Arab countries" had pressured Egypt to refrain from trying Mubarak, adding that the former president's prolonged house arrest without trial greatly weakened the military's standing with the people of Egypt.

"There are many question marks," Fahim said. "A cab driver I spoke to speculated that Arab rulers were pressuring the United States not to pursue Mubarak's trial so as to hide his connections with them."

But on Wednesday a spokesman for Egypt's Prosecutor General denied media reports that Mubarak would be let off the hook. Judge Adel Saeed told reporters that neither Mubarak nor his family members were above the law.

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