A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Mubarak Trial: Even Off TV, It's Still Divisive

Zeinobia live-blogged the resumption of the Mubarak trial yesterday. Though no longer being televised live, it still offers plenty of drama and pathos. I also still agree with Mahmoud Salem ("Sandmonkey") that it will last for years and, if Mubarak is still alive, he'll get house arrest. The sons will get prison time and then go enjoy their spoils in Europe or somewhere, and the second-string officials (if anyone) will pay the real penalty. Meanwhile, his lawyers will play up the sympathy:

Or here in the video:

You know, I really think there are better ways. When Nasser deposed his predecessor, Muhammad Naguib.  Naguib went into a long-term house arrest and became an Orwellian "unperson," but re-emerged as an old man after Sadat died and Mubarak took over. True, he died soon after, but now, belatedly, he has a subway station named for him. (Mubarak Station, a major hub, is now Martyr's Station.) Admittedly, revolutionary-and-maybe-becoming-democratic Egypt can't just unperson him as Nasser did Naguib.

Vengeance and retribution are deeply human, if not very admirable, motives. If Mubarak had killed or imprisoned a relative of mine (or me), I'd want to hang him too, but I also recognize the dangers of going after an ailing, aged octogenarian who is wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney. (I realize that may be courtroom theater, but it's effective with many who aren't quite sure about this revolution.) Back in the seventies when, after Watergate and Nixon's resignation, Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, the move was extremely unpopular at the time and guaranteed Jimmy Carter's election in 1976; while I shared those opinions at the time, I think Ford could today be considered for an update of JFK's Profiles in Courage for committing what he must have known was political suicide in order to spare the country from a horrifically divisive trial of a former President.

The clashes outside the Mubarak trial yesterday remind us that nothing is secure yet, and a Thermidorian reaction might even come before and forestall a Jacobin Terror.  Tunisia was lucky in that Ben Ali left the country so they can try him in absentia all they want, with no effect; Libya is lucky in that Qadhafi announced he planned to burn the whole country to the ground and has few sympathizers who aren't themselves war criminals. The Egyptian case is trickier and more explosive. As I've noted before, I'm delighted he's being tried in regular civilian courts, and not in some revolutionary court, and charged only with crimes that are in the statutes, not something made up for the occasion. But yesterday's drama was disturbing.  It's no longer a show trial in the courtroom, but it's still divisive.

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