The Middle East can come up with just about anything, but here’s one of the most outlandish: Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian dictator, ousted in February 2011 in a massive popular uprising after thirty years in power, could be set free within the week. So say his lawyers, who filed a petition for his immediate release after his acquittal on the crimes of corruption for which he was on trial. True, Mubarak had already been sentenced to 25 years for standing by as the police and armed forces went on killing sprees during the revolution that drove him out. But it seems that as he awaits his second appeal, the term of his detention has reached its limit. There are many who say that in the end, the army-backed interim government will lack the courage to release the old rais, who is the cause and original source of the current chaotic situation. It can even be supposed that the revolutionary forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and those that oppose Mubarak could unite in their anger over this enormous mockery of history.
We don’t know whether it’s actually possible for Mubarak to be released despite his upcoming trials and the sentences that have been imposed on him. Even so, in Morsi’s brief time [in office], the Egyptian legal situation recorded a fatal clash: on one hand, the solemn judicial power accustomed to Mubarak’s reverent etiquette; on the other, the new Islamist power, which opposes secular State law on the basis of Sharia law, which took power away from the judges in favor of the clerics, and which Morsi immediately chose in the name of Islam. The insult of a free Mubarak is already producing enormous shock waves: he’s the walking dead, rising from the stretcher on which he lay as he attended his trial. This is a political and epistemological breakdown by the rais dressed in white, motionless, as dignified as an important corpse, deathly pale under pitch-black glasses, the golem of the Arab world into whom General Sisi, true or false, now breathes new life; moving the aching, atrophied limbs once again, he restores a body ridden with the disease that allowed it to be held in the hospital in Sharm el-Sheik rather than in jail. It’s the end of the Arab Spring, its most crushing surrender.
It seems clear, even if it happens not to be true, that Sisi could not be unaware of the imminent verdict. Fragile as the legal framework may be in the midst of the nightmare world that is Egypt today, deadly clashes that yesterday led to the massacre of 25 grounded soldiers, shot one by one by Islamists from the Sinai, in the mind of the Egyptians and of the entire Middle East, the very idea that Mubarak could come back into circulation is tied up with the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, the historic enemy of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. The sworn enemy of the army, its prey and its killer. It is also an umpteenth corroboration of the power of the army, which Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, the entire military have always considered their own. The armed forces are more than a state within the State: they have governed the country since 1952.
Mubarak was an air force commander, and one of the reasons he’s been deserted is because of his decision to shift power to his son Gamal, who committed the unforgivable offense of being a civilian. The army owns dozens of factories that produce everything from arms to food to civilian vehicles. It is the landlord of buildings, government funds that slip under the radar of international transactions. And even while distancing itself from Mubarak, determined not to share the corruption charges with him, the armed forces still belong to Mubarak. Morsi was a failed attempt. General Sisi is an old-fashioned fellow; he doesn’t answer Obama’s phone calls, isn’t afraid to disagree with Europe, and explains that Egypt could not tolerate the “terrorism” of the Muslim Brotherhood and that the army was forced to take action to re-establish order.
If Mubarak is freed, the historic message to the Islamists will be: your victory is out of your reach, this old man that you’ve condemned is absolved by us. The umpteenth sign that, in the Arab world, “democracy” is a word in search of a writer.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, The Gatestone Institute