A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Acquittals in Egypt Stirring New Outrage

I'm sure if you search for the word "acquittal" on any news site today, the first 10,000 or so hits will be about the high profile US trial of Casey Anthony, a mother accused of killing her daughter, and who will now be free to join O.J. Simpson in searching for the real killer. But while the US was preoccupied with this ultra-tabloid trial, some other acquittals could provoke real problems. In Egypt, the courts have acquitted the former Finance, Information and Housing Ministers of corruption. (These aren't the only charges against them, though.) There's considerable outrage, and earlier, in Suez, police officials charged with killing protesters in January were freed on bail and their trial postponed till September. Suez erupted in protest, and the accused had to be transferred to the custody of the Third Field Army to prevent a lynching.

I don't favor lynching, of course, or drumhead justice of any kind. But I do know that quick acquittals on corruption charges in times like these, or letting accused killers out on bail, can provoke that kind of extrajudicial response. Egypt has a long history of an independent judiciary, much debased in recent years by military courts and the politicization of the bench, This not the time for either the revolutionaries or the old guard to flirt with fire. Any judicial verdict, whether vindictive or exculpatory, will be more credible after restoration of a legitimized system of government. Now is too explosive for acquittals and bail, or for talk of executions.

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