“Bashar should abandon power and retire safely in Egypt. The general-prosecutor is murder-friendly,” a friend, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told me as we watched former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s trial in the Police Academy’s criminal court. Although Mubarak and his interior (security) minister, Habib al-Adly, were handed life sentences at the conclusion of their trials, the generals who ran Egypt’s apparatus of repression as deputy interior ministers were acquitted.
Hasan Abd al-Rahman, head of the notorious, Stasi-like State Security Investigations (SSI); Ahmad Ramzi, head of the Central Security Forces (CSF); Adly Fayyid, the head of Public Security; Ismail al-Shaer, who led the Cairo Security Directorate (CSD); Osama Youssef, the head of the Giza Security Directorate; and Omar Faramawy, who oversaw of the 6th of October Security Directorate, were all cleared of any wrongdoing. Lawyers for Mubarak and al-Adly will appeal their life sentences, and many Egyptians believe that they will receive lighter sentences.
The verdicts sent an unmistakable message, one with serious consequences for Egypt’s political transition. A spontaneous cry was heard from the lawyers and the families of victims when they were announced: “The people want to cleanse the judiciary.”
Indeed, many Egyptians, including senior judges, do not view the judiciary as independent.
“This is a major professional mistake. Those generals should have been handed life sentences like Mubarak,” said Zakaria Abd al-Aziz, the former elected head of the Judges Club. “The killing went on for days, and they did not order anyone to stop it. The Ministry of Interior is not the only place that should be cleansed. The judiciary needs that as well.”
The verdicts certainly reinforce a culture of impunity within the security services. The SSI and its departments were responsible for many human rights violations throughout Mubarak’s 30-year rule. When protestors stormed the SSI headquarters and other governorates last year in March, torture rooms and equipment were found in every building.
Unlawful detentions, kidnappings, disappearances, systematic torture, rape, and inhumane prison conditions have all been documented since the 1980s by human rights organizations and a few Egyptian courts. Acquitting the heads of the SSI and the CSF (the 300,000-strong institution that acted as the “muscle” of Mubarak’s regime), after a revolution sparked by police brutality, led directly to renewed protests in Tahrir Square.
“We either get the rights of the martyrs, or die like them,” chanted hundreds of thousands in Tahrir and other Egyptian squares. Sit-ins, reminiscent of the 18 days of January and February last year that ended Mubarak’s rule, have already started.
A third consequence of the verdicts concerns the empowerment of an anti-reform faction within the interior ministry. Based on my year-long research on Egyptian security sector reform, this faction is already the most powerful.
Following the revolution, factional struggle within the interior ministry became public.
“We have to save face,” said General Abd al-Latif Badiny, a deputy interior minister who was fired under al-Adly. “[M]any officers and commanders refused to torture detainees and were against corruption, but we need a revolutionary president to empower us and clean the ministry.”