Mubarak verdict due, but Egyptians' interest wanes
CAIRO (AP) -- Amal Shaker's 25-year-old son Ahmed was fatally shot in the back on the "Friday of Rage," one of the bloodiest days of Egypt's 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Nearly four years later, she is still waiting for justice.
"We want blood for blood," she said.
Her wait is supposed to end Saturday when a verdict is expected in the 86-year-old Mubarak's trial on charges connected to the killing of more than 900 protesters against his rule. But Egypt's "trial of the century," initially watched with excitement, has largely dropped from public attention. That's partly because of how drawn out the process has been - with a trial and retrial - and partly because subsequent upheaval has flipped the political narrative.
The revolutionary fervor of 2011 has been largely extinguished, replaced among many Egyptians by exhaustion from nearly four years of turmoil. Many of the pro-democracy activists central to the uprising are in prison for attempting to protest against the new president, former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Others are dismissed in the media as troublemakers, while the police who in the revolutionaries' eyes were the hated tools of Mubarak oppression are now lauded in the press as heroes in a fight against Islamists.
"The issue is over," Ahmed Hani, a Cairo accountant, said of the trial, which he like many is not following closely. "What's important is to improve the country, to bring it back to its prior state, more than to take an interest in a thing like this."
When the trial began in 2011, Egyptians were initially transfixed by TV images of the former strongman who ruled for 30 years being rolled on a gurney into the defendant's cage. In June 2012, he was convicted of failing to stop the killing of protesters and was sentenced to life in prison.
But the conviction was thrown out by a higher court, and a retrial began in May 2013. On trial with Mubarak are his former interior minister and other top security officials, as well as his sons Alaa and Gamal on corruption charges.
During the retrial, the political landscape dramatically transformed.
Mubarak's elected successor, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by el-Sissi and the military after massive protests that began on June 30, 2013 against the domination of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. A sweeping crackdown against Islamists ensued and has widened to suppress any dissenting voices.
Now the state routinely blames all violence on Islamists and foreign conspirators. TV stations and newspapers have largely dropped criticism of Mubarak's old regime and focus all their venom on Islamists. They also at times promote a revised history painting the 2011 uprising as part of a conspiracy to destabilize Egypt that the 2013 "revolution" corrected.
"The urgency of holding Mubarak to account ... is much less now," particularly when many Mubarak-era officials including el-Sissi are in positions of influence, said Issandr al-Amrani, North Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group. El-Sissi was promoted to head of military intelligence during Mubarak's last year in power.
"There's been a steady narrative to say 2011 wasn't a real revolution, the real revolution was the June 30, 2013 one against Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.
During the retrial, Mubarak's defense has tried to blame protester deaths on the Brotherhood, to ride the anti-Islamist tide, said lawyer Mohammed Farouk, who is representing families of the victims in the trial.
He said he expected Mubarak to be convicted and given a life sentence again, arguing that there has been ample evidence Mubarak failed to protect protesters. Mubarak is currently serving a 3-year sentence on a separate embezzlement charge.
Another lawyer for the victims, Hoda Nasrallah, said she is worried that renewed empathy for Mubarak could have an impact on the judge's ruling, especially given recent court verdicts criticized by rights advocates as politicized and vindictive against Islamists.
The question, she said, is how the judge wants to write the history of 2011 - "whether he will decide it was a revolution" that Mubarak tried to stop or "whether it was a conspiracy."
The trial has faced challenges since it began. Evidence was lost because the prosecutor was slow to collect it, lawyers said, and a key CD of police communications was destroyed. The prosecution has to rely for evidence on the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, though its leaders were implicated in the case.
At the closing session in August, Mubarak was allowed to speak in a televised session. He defiantly expressed regret that his legacy had been tainted, saying he "did everything for the interests of the people" and stepped down as president "to prevent bloodshed and to preserve national unity."
The atmosphere leaves families of the 2011 "martyrs" even more isolated as they wait.
"Every house has a burning heart. Youth that were like flowers were killed ... Four years have passed, where is the trial?" said Shaker, Ahmed's mother.
She said her son, the family's primary breadwinner, was a bystander at the protests, shot while meeting his fiancee. She describes him as a hardworking young man frustrated by the lack of opportunities in Egypt. "His ambitions in life were to be something big," she sighed, holding a portrait of her son.
Mahmoud Ibrahim Ali, whose wife was killed during the 2011 uprising, has little faith in the judiciary, believing it simply does the government's bidding.
"The regime is the same. Names have changed but everything is the same."