Lying on a hospital bed dressed in all-white, the frail and defenseless 83-year-old figure is only a shadow of the once fierce leader he proved to be for so many years. Mubarak pleads innocence on all counts from behind a barred cell, an ironically haunting scene reminiscent of the many trials that occurred under his rule; however, unlike those others, torture and execution are unlikely in his case.
One such trial was that of Ayman al-Zawahiri, current leader of al-Qaida, tried in 1981 under suspicion that his Islamic Jihad movement instigated the assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat.
Mubarak’s removal has come as a welcome event to not only supporters of democracy worldwide, but also the extremist movements that were heavily suppressed during his time. In an unlikely turn of events, it appears the United States and al-Qaida have found something on which they can agree.
The Mubarak trial, however, symbolizes much more than the toppling of another dictator. It serves as a crucial symbol of progress to an increasingly restless Egyptian public, eager to see the implementation of the changes promised after Mubarak’s removal in February this year. The world watched in wonder as thousands of celebrating Egyptians filled Tahrir Square, jubilant at the prospect of democratic society after decades of corruption and abuse of power. However, further protests have occurred in the months since as signs of change have been slow to materialize. The general election, originally scheduled for July, has been pushed back to October while the interim military government is struggling to appease protesters during this nervous transition period.
To further complicate the situation, on Monday the judge in the trial ordered television coverage to be ceased and adjourned proceedings for another three weeks, an additional delay that will frustrate the public.
Meanwhile, divisions appear more pronounced as the nation seeks stability and forges a new identity, exemplified by the sectarian violence that has occurred between Salafist Muslims and Coptic Christians in recent months. Furthermore, the successful construction of a new government will rely heavily on the ability of the New Wafd Party and the previously outlawed Muslim Brotherhood (Freedom and Justice Party) to form a viable coalition. Needless to say, Egypt has some way to go before the product of the much-welcomed revolution is realized.
One thing is for certain. Egypt is not Libya or Syria, and should certainly not be tarnished by the complications of those drawn-out situations of seeming stalemate. For one thing, the Egyptian military played no supporting role for the government and while some 800 deaths were recorded, the protests were largely peaceful — a promising foundation for stable democracy.
Egypt may still be the success story of a turbulent and varied series of events across the Middle East in recent months, as opposition to the oppressive leadership of Ghaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria have resulted in much less desirable consequences, while a civil uprising in Yemen has opened the door for warring tribal groups, and more worryingly, al-Qaida. Furthermore, as tensions continue surrounding Palestine’s claim for statehood and the ongoing dispute over territorial borders with Israel, the successful implementation of democracy in Egypt has important repercussions beyond just its own people. It has the chance to be an example of stability in an increasingly unstable region.
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Timothy J.A. Passmore is a visiting lecturer in International Relations at Lee University. He completed his postgraduate studies at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. His “Your World Today” column will become a regular feature published in the Wednesday edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)