An Egyptian court sentenced deposed President Hosni Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly to life in prison on Saturday, for failing to prevent the killing of more than 240 unarmed protesters in last spring's pro-democracy uprising. At the same time, the court acquitted Mubarak, Adly, and six senior police chiefs of direct responsibility for the killings, and cleared Mubarak, his sons Gamal and Alla, and a business partner of corruption, citing a lapsed statute of limitations. After initially cheering the verdict, protesters poured into Tahrir Square and elsewhere around Egypt to protest. Some pro-Mubarak protesters also gathered around the country, holding up signs saying the verdict was too harsh. Did the judges serve the interest of justice, or just the military regime still ruling the country?
The verdict borders on farcical: The outrage on the Egyptian street is understandable, says Wendell Steavenson at The New Yorker. This "finely balanced muddle" of a verdict looks aimed at providing the appearance of justice without rocking the boat, and thus ends up making little sense. How can Mubarak be guilty of failing to prevent murder, but not found responsible "for the killing itself"? In the end, Mubarak's military-political-business regime "served its interests" by throwing him in jail. And Mubarak may well win his freedom on appeal.
But it was a big step toward democracy: Egyptians wanted a public reckoning of Mubarak's dictatorship, "a show trial," says Israel's Haaretz in an editorial, and what they got was "a successful test of a formal democratic procedure." That less-flashy outcome "can't make everyone happy," but what in a democracy can? Egypt deserves great credit for striving to fix its government through democratic means, and this is a big test: If the Tahrir crowd doesn't "launch a new uprising against the court," Egypt can soon "complete the revolution by electing a new president."
"Another step toward democracy in Egypt"
Egyptians have no choice but to protest: "Whoever wins the country's presidential election later this month, Egyptians must keep pushing," says William J. Dobson at Slate. It is remarkable that an Egyptian court just peacefully tried and locked up its longtime ruler — an Arab Spring first — "but a dictator in prison is not a political system remade." The old regime is "circling the wagons." If Egyptians stop fighting now, stop demanding accountability for the Tahrir "martyrs," their next president could be as bad as their last.
"The Pharaoh got life! Long live the Pharaoh!"