Millions of Egyptians watched their former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in a court cage last week. Many of us were speechless.
A humiliated Mubarak appeared in an Egyptian courtroom on the outskirts of the capital Cairo.
It was a sight many Egyptians had long demanded—but never dared to hope they’d see. Now they were watching it live on television.
The former dictator, along with his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, faces charges of murder and corruption. His former interior minister and senior police officers are also on trial.
Mubarak stands accused of killing some 850 unarmed protesters and using his position while president to enrich himself and his family, including selling under-priced gas to Israel in exchange for bribes.
If he’s found guilty, he could face the death penalty. The trial will send shivers down the spine of dictators everywhere.
Mubarak was wheeled into court on a hospital bed—after his lawyers’ pleas that he was too ill to stand trial didn’t wash.
The ousted president, who ruled over Egypt for three decades, denied all the charges. The trial is now adjourned until later this month.
During the uprising in January 2011, calls to try Mubarak, his corrupt family and security chiefs in public echoed strongly in the streets.
But since he was toppled on 11 February, his army generals, who are currently in power, tried their best to avoid a public trial.
They hoped Mubarak would die in silence in Sharm el-Sheikh.
It is thanks to the continuing protests and sit-ins in the public squares that they were forced to make him stand.
Some in the Western press—and in the local activist community—have trivialised the event. They claim it was a show by the military junta to sedate the public.
That is not true.
Of course many are jubilant to see government officials and murderers in court.
But many are also becoming convinced that the army is not an ally and doesn’t understand anything except the language of protests.
Many now think that it was right to take to the streets again—or Mubarak could have got away with his crimes.
The trial also encourages further radicalisation. Questions are being tossed in the face of the army about why notorious spy chief Omar Suleiman is not the cage, or Mubarak’s corrupt wife, Suzanne.
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was put on trial by a foreign occupying force. But Mubarak is the first Arab dictator to be tried in his own country. It is unprecedented.
Since he rose to power in 1981, Mubarak ruled Egypt with torture chambers, martial law, and a security apparatus that resembled the Gestapo.
Workers’ strikes and street protests were not tolerated under his reign. Dissidents vanished in prisons, others lost their lives in interrogation rooms.
Mubarak’s name used to invoke fear and terror.
In the 1990s, when I became politically active, you couldn’t mention Mubarak’s name in public without checking to make sure no one was eavesdropping.
You couldn’t chant against him at protests and you couldn’t write about him critically in newspapers.
One of the reasons I joined the Revolutionary Socialists was reading in Arabic, for the first time in my life, “Mubarak the dictator” in their magazine.
This wall of fear began crumbling in 2000, following the
outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada.
Pro-Palestine and anti-war demonstrations soon turned anti-regime. Tens of thousands of protesters chanted against Mubarak in public squares, including Tahrir Square.
The impact of the trial on the Arab world is huge. Millions of Arabs are watching the TV screens in shock.
They are also coming to the conclusion they could do it too—they can put their tyrants behind bars.
Mubarak’s ongoing trial is not the end of the revolution, and it doesn’t constitute the only demands we raised in the streets.
Tonnes of other demands remain unfulfilled.
They include the eviction of the military from power, purging the remnants of the dissolved National Democratic Party from the ruling institutions, and social justice.
Mubarak’s trial will not sedate the public. It will only act as a catalyst to boost the fight for the rest of the demands.