‘Executing Mubarak would be gigantic mistake’

Those calling for blood are merely hoping to clear their own names, says ex-US official.

Mubarak testifies 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Egypt TV via Reuters TV)
Mubarak testifies 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Egypt TV via Reuters TV)
Executing Hosni Mubarak would be a grave mistake, according to a Middle East expert and former top US foreign-policy official, and would be counterproductive to Egypt’s attempts to move towards democratic government.
“It would be wrong to execute him,” said Elliott Abrams, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and head of Middle East affairs at the US National Security Council from 2001 to 2009. “Execution would be a gigantic mistake. But if he’s convicted now, who would give him a pardon? If you come in as Egypt’s next president, would you want that to be your first official act? That would make a lot of people angry.
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“It was shocking to see Mubarak in a cage – he didn’t look very well,” Abrams said by phone from Washington. “Who would have thought something like this could happen a year ago? “Do most Egyptians really want this? Do they think this is good for the country?” he said. “There are a lot of people calling for blood, but the question is how many. Is it 75 percent of Egyptians? Two percent?” Abrams said authorities pushing for the deposed president’s trial are motivated by two main objectives: to assuage public anger over the former regime’s alleged corruption and violence while at the same time clear themselves of those same charges.
“A lot of people want this to go ahead because they want Mubarak punished. But I think a lot of others believe that if Mubarak is punished, they won’t be.
They believe the desire for vengeance will be satisfied by seeing Mubarak and his sons in a cage.”
For military and former government officials, Abrams said, “Mubarak has become a kind of human sacrifice.”
Abrams said Mubarak’s most devastating legacy is leaving Egypt with an emboldened Muslim Brotherhood.
“The real crime of Hosni Mubarak is that he ruled for 30 years and left behind an Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood is the single strongest player. That’s the real crime against Egypt and its future – crushing the center,” he said. “For the last ten years, he didn’t try to crush them or stamp them out – he was playing footsie with the Brotherhood, saying ‘You can have 80 members of parliament, but not 150.’ “Egypt could have made real progress over these 30 years toward stable, moderate government and it didn’t – and that’s because of him,” Abrams said.
“The Brotherhood certainly has an appeal to millions of Egyptians. Is that because they want a Brotherhood- led state? Do they want to live in Saudi Arabia? Is it because they don’t understand how radical the Brotherhood’s designs are? Is it because they view it as the only party that’s honest?” The Islamist movement, he said, “is there. They’re organized. The other guys are just getting started and it could take them five or ten years to get organized,” he said. “Are we going to see a Brotherhood that tops out at 25 percent with secular parties taking the rest, which would be very good news? I don’t know.”
Turning to Syria – another of Israel’s neighbors in the throes of popular revolt – Abrams said he believes embattled President Bashar Assad is doomed, and the only question remaining is how much longer Assad’s regime has left.
“I don’t see how Assad can survive this,” he said.
“What we in the US should be thinking about is how to make this happen sooner rather than later, because the longer this goes on, the more sectarian violence there will be. This could take a long time – 6, 12 or even 18 months – but it seems sooner or later the army will crack and the opposition will grow better and better organized.”
In an op-ed Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, Abrams called on the Obama administration to reach out to generals from Assad’s minority Alawite sect to ensure them that should Assad be deposed, they won’t become victims of a retribution campaign led by the majority Sunni population.
Abrams said sanctions could be effective against Damascus, but Washington is too overextended elsewhere in the region to wage an effective sanctions campaign.
“We’re pretty much sanctioned-out here in the US, so that would fall to Europe,” he said. “The Sunni elites haven’t abandoned Assad yet. I think they will come closer to doing that if they come to view him as dead weight on Syria’s economy that has to go.”
“The critical thing is the sense of inevitability. I think you’ll get some Alawites to switch sides once they get the sense Assad is doomed,” he said. “The outcome here is not in doubt – the timing is.”
Abrams said should protesters succeed in overthrowing the Assad regime, it’s not the responsibility of the US to ensure a bloodbath is avoided but that of the Sunnis themselves.
“The Americans and Europeans need to be talking to the Sunnis – that is, the opposition and the protesters, to the extent that they have a leadership – and asking that they constantly repeat, ‘This is not sectarian war. We have nothing against Alawites.
This is against the Assad mafia.’”