A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mubarak Trial Verdict: What Impact on the Presidential Vote?

The verdict in the trial of deposed Egyptian President Husni Mubarak is due tomorrow. Reports that "20,000 police and 160 tanks" will be deployed around the Police Academy where the trial has been held may suggest that the authorities suspect that the verdict (do they know it already?) may provoke public outrage. That may suggest they expect a relatively light verdict, if not an acquittal, though of course they may just be taking precautions whatever the verdict may be.

Although theoretically the court could impose the death penalty, they aren't going to do that on a dying 84-year-old, unless they immediately commute it on the spot. Some kind of serious-sounding sentence, even if it just means Mubarak ends his days under house (or hospital) arrest, seems more likely, though a really lenient finding (acquittal, a minor slap on the wrist of some sort) could provoke outrage.

Now that one of the two Presidential candidates, Ahmad Shafiq, is an old crony of Mubarak's, a fellow ex-Air Force chief and Mubarak's last Prime Minister (and the man who carried Mubarak's home province of Menufiyya overwhelmingly), it's clear that the verdict could have some impact on the Presidential runoff. But what impact, precisely? Would sympathy for Mubarak (if the sentence is harsh) strengthen Shafiq, or would a lenient sentence raise fears that Shafiq represents a return of Mubarakism (lots of people believe that already, including many of Shafiq's supporters who are old NDP types) and lead to a backlash against Shafiq? The exact affect depends on the verdict of course.

What seems certain is that, with Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi as the candidates, Mubarak's fate will become a campaign issue beginning tomorrow and probably continuing to the vote.  With the campaign already dividing between the religious candidate and the law and order security candidate (where's the fix-the-economy candidate, anyway?), the verdict will just polarize the debate even further.

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