Mubarak’s acquittal — what does it mean?

Hosni Mubarak, his sons, and other close aides have been acquitted of the criminal charges against them. The charges pertained to actions taken by the Mubarak regime to maintain power during the 2011 revolution.

The acquittal says nothing about the merits of the charges, just as a guilty verdict under the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime would have told us nothing. The verdict should, I think, be viewed as a political decision.

What, then, does the verdict tell us about Egyptian politics, beyond the fact that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ousted the Muslim Brotherhood? Ariel Ben Solomon of the Jerusalem Post addresses this question.

In his view, the verdict shows that Sisi has comfortably and confidently settled into power. As unpopular as Mubarak was, Sisi sees no danger in letting the former president and his associates off the hook.

The Muslim Brotherhood may deplore the decision and a great many ordinary Egyptians may disagree with it. But Sisi has concluded that after four years of turmoil, most Egyptians are ready to move on. If Sisi can provide stability and preside over economic improvement, the decision on Mubarak will be a footnote at best. If he cannot, memories of Mubarak will be the least of his problems.

Some have said that the Mubarak decision also means that Sisi intends to return to the ways of Mubarak. It’s possible that he does, but one cannot infer this from the verdict alone.

As Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, told Solomon, Mubarak wanted only calm and stability, not reform. Sisi wants calm and stability, but it is too early to say that he is uninterested in reform.

Mazel believes that Sisi, in fact, wants reform. His plan is to modernize the country while maintaining basic freedoms through law.

This view may prove to be too optimistic. But it is not inconsistent with a pro-Mubarak decision.

One can believe that Mubarak should not be punished for actions taken during revolutionary turmoil, spearheaded to one degree or another by the Muslim Brotherhood, without concluding that, going forward, Mubarak’s ways represent the best prescription for Egypt.

There is little doubt that Sisi plans to maintain a strong grip on power, as Mubarak did. However, there are signs that Sisi wants to use his power for reformist purposes, up to a point.

Let’s hope that these signs pan out.

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