On Sunday hundreds people came out to protest against the acquittal of the ex-president Hosni Mubarak. On Saturday the Cairo Criminal Court dropped the case against Mubarak who had been accused of the killing of protesters during the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011.
This time the protests also turned violent. At least two people are reported to have been killed and dozens injured in clashes with police which used water cannons, tear gas and riot control vehicles to disperse the crowds.
That same day Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a statement saying "the new Egypt, born after the January 25 and the June 30 revolutions… cannot move backwards".
Says Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid, professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Developing Countries at Cairo University:
On the day the ruling was announced there was a big demonstration on Tahrir Square, a relatively big, compared to other demonstrations that took place in Egypt recently. It is estimated that about 2 000 people took part in this demonstration, which was ended when the security forces intervened. At the same time, also there were demonstrations in some Egyptian universities, including the Cairo University.
I think on the social media there were many expressions of discontent about this ruling. And there were also other comments celebrating this ruling. And this reflects the divided state of the public opinion in Egypt at present concerning this ruling.
So, is it the case when the protests once again are turning violent or is the situation under control?
Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid: I think the situation is under control, in general, because the number of people who took part in these demonstrations is small, it was limited to a few places. And there is a call for a big demonstration on Tuesday. So, we have to wait to see what will happen. But I don’t think it will be a very big demonstration. So far the situation is under control and I don’t think it will get out of control on Tuesday, because this time the police force and the army are united in their determination not to let things get out of hand.
But who exactly are the protesters?
Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid: The protesters I think include two groups of people: the young Egyptians who either took part in the events of the revolution in January and February 2011, or the people who believe in the ideals of the revolution, and also the Islamists take part in these demonstrations, because they are, on the one hand, unhappy with the ruling, and secondly, they also want to use this ruling as the way mobilizing large segments of the population against the current Government.
Is Egypt in for another wave of instability?
Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid: No, I doubt that we are going through a period of instability in the short run. We are used to having the protests in the country. And as it is also expected that larger masses of people will take part in these protests, I think that the situation will remain under control. What will happen in the future will very much depend on the performance of the Government in dealing with the question of unemployment of the young people, the question of poverty and also whether it will fulfill its promise of holding the free parliamentary elections.
I think if it fails to meet its promises of providing employment for the young people, alleviating poverty, improving the public services, if it fails in doing this, we might see a renewal of the protests. But I doubt that these protests will take place at the national level. I think most probably there will be more of localized protests, but I think the conditions that led to a massive revolution in January 2011 are not going to be met in the near future.
What is the reaction of the US to Mr. Mubarak’s acquittal and what are the relations of the current Government with its American partners?
Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid: I don’t think the US is unhappy about the ruling, because the US did support President Hosni Mubarak. I have not seen the official reactions by the US Government, but I think the American newspapers commented on the ruling and I think their assessment was that Egypt will go through a period of instability. But I doubt very much that the American Government will change its position towards Egypt because of this ruling, because I don’t think the Government has exerted any pressure on the judges to make this ruling.
The problem is that the judges did not find the incriminating evidence, because they did not receive any cooperation from the security forces or from other security agencies who, perhaps, had the documents that could prove that Mubarak gave an order to shoot at the demonstrators. And the texts of the laws are also quite lax. You know, if a certain crime was committed 10 years ago, then it is not procedurally right to examine it. You know, the time has passed.
So, we have problems with our legal system, we have problems with the security forces and with the judges. So, I think many people were not surprised at the ruling, because they know very well that the security forces did not want Mubarak to be condemned, did not want their former leaders to be convicted and, anyway, they did not cooperate with the judges. So, I think this is the main problem.
I also guess the US knows about this and so long as President Sisi is committed to continue fighting terrorism and maintain his treaty with Israel, and engage in this war on terrorism, and so long as he continues to offer a passage for the US fleet in the Suez Canal and to also allow the use of the Egyptian air space by the American war planes, I think so long as these facilities are offered to the US and Egypt does not change its position on Israel and fighting terrorism, the Egyptian Government will continue getting the US support.
So, is President Sisi committed to cooperate with Israel in security issues? Is Israel prepared to cooperate with general Sisi?
Says Professor Yoram Meital, Chairman of Herzog Center for Middle East Studies:
I would say that the Mubarak’s trial is a very clear example that it is impossible to separate the trial and the political context in Egypt in the context of a revolutionary phase. Of course, the verdict is a serious blow for the supporters of the revolution which opposed the return of an authoritarian regime. And most of the comments following the verdict were exactly on this point – that the trial was a political trial and that the dismissal of most of the serious allegations expresses the return or a fear of the return of this authoritarian regime.
How high are the chances that authoritarian regime is going to stage a comeback?
Prof. Yoram Meital: I think it is mostly unlikely that the supporters of the return of this authoritarian regime would succeed. The situation in Egypt since the January 2011 revolution has completely changed and there are many sectors who are opposed to the returning of an authoritarian system, and they are very determined to struggle against any efforts of this system. We have a lot of resentment within the society today and there are many expressions of the demonstrators who are against any effort by the army, the security apparatus and the supporters of the previous regime to gain the street.
As we are watching new protests in Egypt, do you think that there is a risk of further long-term destabilization?
Prof. Yoram Meital: Even if we take into account the previous year of Mr. Sisi running the country, we can see that, although the regime is using all its energy and efforts, the security situation has not been improved, the economic conditions are struggling and the bottom-line is that Egypt is not in a better position today, than it was a year ago. In addition, the anti-democratic move by the regime is very prominent. And, as I noticed earlier, there are many in Egypt who are now criticizing Sisi not only for not being more democratic, but also for not delivering on the promises in terms of renewed security and improved economic situation.
Is there any political force in Egypt now which could really deliver on improving the situation?
Prof. Yoram Meital: Unfortunately, the Egyptian society is polarized in an unprecedented way today. And there is no one party or sector that could take the Egyptian society out of this very problematic stage, in which the country has been since the year 2011. What I see is a continuation of the destabilization and the struggling of many sectors within Egypt. It will be wise, I think, to take into account that what we are seeing in Egypt is a true revolutionary change in which some very forceful powers are taking into the street and are fighting for the power. And this would not be ended any time soon. It could take years before we would see the stability in Egypt.
So, the Arab Spring brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Now we see that the military are gaining the upper hand. But when the region is faced with a threat of the IS, could that somehow mobilize Egypt and other societies across the MENA region?
Prof. Yoram Meital: Definitely, yes, the threat of the more radical forces like the IS and factions of radical groups that exist in the areas like the Sinai Peninsula, all these have a lot of impact on the Egyptians and the Arabs in general. And it could mobilize major sectors even to support a more authoritarian regime with the hope that the security will be achieved. However, as we can see, in Egypt at least, the Sisi regime is fighting against the militant groups within the Sinai Peninsula and other parts of Egypt, but the results are not that much impressive at this point in time.
I think what we see is that the process that started with the Arab Spring continues in Syria, in Tunisia, in Yemen and in Egypt, and it takes very different expressions in these countries. In addition, we see the rise of the IS and the bottom-line here is that the ME today is undergoing a very dramatic change. And it is difficult to say today how long it takes to reach a point of stability in the region, and what the region would like to be when we reach the end of this stage.
Israel used to be one of the key allies of Egypt and vice versa. Do you see any prospects of cooperation with this Government in Egypt?
Prof. Yoram Meital: Israel and the Sisi regime are working hand in hand. They see eye to eye on many issues, including on the fighting against the Islamic militant groups and the IS. Actually, Israel has supported Mr. Sisi’s rise to power. And the Israeli Government saw Mr. Sisi fighting against the MB movement and toppling President Morsi from power as a very positive move. So, in fact, just as it sounds very surprising, Israel does support the continuation of the Sisi regime and supports its policy.
And this is not to say that there are no differences between the two states. If we take into account the Egyptian view on the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on this issue the two states or governments do not see eye to eye. So, on the one level they have a lot in common, on the other level there are differences.