By Rebecca Lowe
Lawyers have raised concerns that members of the Mubarak regime may escape justice for their alleged role in the killing of demonstrators during the Egyptian revolution.
Former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, Galal and Alaa, are currently standing trial on charges of corruption. The former leader has also been charged with conspiring to kill protesters, which holds a 15-year sentence or the death penalty.
Several other regime officials have also found themselves in the dock, including the former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly and former Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali.
All have been given jail sentences for corruption-related charges. Al-Adly currently remains on trial for ordering the killing of protesters.
Victims who never thought they would see these powerful men being held to account in courts of law have celebrated the hearings.
Yet some believe the Egyptian judicial process is inadequate for the task. For the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), Egyptian criminal law is not equipped to deal with the crimes committed during the uprising and should be updated in line with international human rights law.
In a report entitled ‘The prosecution of those involved and accused of killing peaceful demonstrators during the 25th January Revolution’, the ACIJLP recommends that Egypt ratifies the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute, which it signed up to on 26 December 2000.
Speaking to the International Bar Association, ACIJLP Director Nasser Amin says: ‘We have a big problem in Egypt now concerning Mubarak and some of his generals. Our problem is that the government wants to try them now, but at the same time we don’t have any article in the Penal Code defining a crime against humanity. We only have murder. It is a very difficult situation.’
The report states that the prosecution of those accused of killing demonstrators according to the Penal Code ‘leads to aberrant results’. Many could be convicted only of manslaughter, it says, or may be released completely. Those who planned but did not carry out the killings might also escape punishment.
Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, is equally sceptical about the judicial process. He, along with several activist groups, is suspicious of Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, ‘a well-known figure of the Mubarak regime’, and has voiced frustration that many former officials have only been charged with corruption-related offences.
Some will avoid prosecution completely, he believes, because of the number of senior members of the military establishment – which currently controls the country – who are complicit in the financial abuses.
For Bassiouni, the acquittal of Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, and the failure to interrogate several key members of the regime ‘reinforces the suspicions that these corruption investigations were merely designed to assuage public opinion’.
Others, however, have been less quick to pass judgment. Hani Sarie-Eldin, Managing Partner of Sarie-Eldin & Partners law firm in Egypt and member of the new Free Egyptians political party, believes the acquittals and limited prosecutions are a sign that the trials are fair, rather than simply a media circus:
‘As a lawyer, you cannot judge what these issues are judged on just from the media. So I feel hesitant to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction.’
Sarie-Eldin also has ‘mixed feelings’ about the military tribunals, which have been used by the army to try around 7,000 civilians since February – a process condemned by several human rights groups. They, like Bassiouni, believe the 5,600 people who have been convicted should have their cases reviewed by the civilian courts.
‘We had total lack of security in the early days,’ says Sarie-Eldin, speaking on the phone from Cairo. ‘And we had criminals killing people in their houses and raping women in the streets. We needed immediate, aggressive action to secure safety and security.
‘We have a big problem in Egypt now concerning Mubarak and some of his generals. Our problem is that the government wants to try them now, but at the same time we don’t have any article in the Penal Code defining a crime against humanity.'
Director, Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession
‘Now, however, it is not acceptable to continue with these trials.’
Both Sarie-Eldin and Bassiouni, however, have voiced concerns about the electoral and constitutional process underway, believing that parliamentary elections should wait until after a new Constitution has been drafted.
This would give parties time to garner support, preventing the old regime simply taking back power under a new mantle, and avoid potential problems arising from running elections under temporary legislation.
Sarie-Eldin says: ‘The new Constitution might change the face of the government and then we would have to start the whole thing again. And opposition parties need more time to build themselves. You can’t build a massive base across the country in a few months.’
The future is not all bleak, however. ‘I’m sure we’ll get there in the end,’ he adds. ‘There is no way to go back.’