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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Only God’s mercy can save Egypt

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© AP Images

For me, the sight of an 83-year-old, former Egyptian president and hero of the October 1973 War lying ill on a stretcher in a courtroom cage, as one of his sons bent down to kiss him, was hard to watch. And I’m sure that many Egyptians, even those who were glad to see him go, feel the same way. On the other hand, provided this historic trial brings closure, it is a necessary part of the transformation process happening in Egypt right now.

Strangely, the accused – Hosni Mubarak, his sons Ala’a and Gamal and the former Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly – appeared more dignified than the attorneys milling around the courtroom, most of whom were there to register civilian cases on behalf of their clients.

Such undisciplined and noisy scenes didn’t reflect well on the Egyptian legal system in the eyes of the billions of viewers who watched it on TV and, unfortunately were grist to the mill of Arab critics such as Moshe Dayan who’s been quoted as saying, “If the Arabs cannot organise their shoes in front of the mosques when they go for prayer, which is the bare minimum, then they have no hope for them…”

More importantly, the trial should be fair, unlike the kangaroo court in Iraq that sent Saddam Hussein to the gallows; it should set the standard for justice in post-revolutionary Egypt.

Verdicts should be passed by impartial judges, based on hard evidence. My fear is that Mubarak’s day in court will become a political show trial with judges either riding the revolutionary wave themselves or falling prey to pressure to please the crowds on the street. If that’s the case, Mubarak and others should be tried by an international tribunal. I want to see Egypt strong, stable and united under a pluralistic political system – and, as the largest Arab country, able to reassert its role as a regional key player. But I fear that the Egyptian people’s current obsession with retribution and promotion of sectarian interests may be harming those goals.

If some interpret my valid concerns as sympathy for the old regime, they are wrong. For instance, my column titled, ‘An impatient minority holds Egypt hostage’ was one of the articles discussed last week on the BBC’s ‘7 Days’ programme; in particular my assertion that unknown know-it-alls are appearing on Arabic networks falsely claiming a mandate to speak on behalf of the Egyptian people. It’s my view that until parliamentary and presidential elections are held in the late autumn nobody has that right.

One of the BBC’s guests was Abdullah Hamouda, an Egyptian journalist, based in London, who reacted to the excerpt from my column saying, “Everyone sees what is happening through their own eyes, from their point of view and through their own interests.” The host sought to clarify his statement by asking, “You mean that the papers have interest? The Gulf papers you mean and the attitudes in them?”

“Yes, I mean what Al Habtoor, the businessman, said reflects the attitude and position of businessmen in the Gulf who came to Egypt in the time of the old regime and who received all the privileges and all the special treatments at the time and their ability to deal with the corrupted people who were controlling everything at that time,” he replied.

“Unfortunately, many of them accomplished a lot this way. I wish that a man like Khalaf Al Habtoor, who is a businessman with a lot of interests in a lot of countries, wouldn’t speak in this way. Everyone should see what is happening from the Egyptian people’s point of view and what the Egyptian people want, not what these people [outsiders] want.”

To set the record straight, I have never met the former President Mubarak, his family, or any of the others who are accused. I have never been the beneficiary of special treatment or privilege from officialdom during my visits to the country and I have no business interests in Egypt.

It seems to me that Mr Hamouda has fallen into the category of a so-called expert believing they know what the Egyptian people want and who are unwilling even to listen to the advice of Egypt’s friends who are away from the fire and might, therefore, possess greater objectivity.

Actually, it isn’t so much what Egyptians want, as what they need and their needs are basically the same needs as people everywhere, especially the ability to hold their heads high. The fact is that the Egyptians are diametrically divided.

The youth movement wants a Western-style democracy run by a civilian government with no military oversight. The Copts want greater political representation and the right to construct churches. Secularists and modernists want an open society and a government in which religion plays no part.

Then there are the Islamist organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which did its best to hide its true objectives during the revolution’s aftermath, promising not to field a presidential candidate or to target more than 30 per cent of all the parliamentary seats, while having launched a PR campaign to display its new moderate, all-encompassing face. Since then, the layers have been peeled off. The MB has formed a coalition with a number of Islamist extremist groups and spawned new parties, headed by some staunch ‘former’ MB leaders who are going after the presidency.

The veil fell from the MB on Friday July 29 2011 when its members, together with other Islamists called for the creation of an Islamic state under Sharia law, chanting, “Islam, Islam, we do not want a liberal state” with a few holding up photographs of Osama bin Laden. As Egypt is predominantly Muslim, it is only right that Islamic principles are taken into account by the state, but these fanatics want a kind of Sunni Islamic Republic of Iran that would result in international isolation, economic disaster and an end to personal freedoms in the country. If this happens, the Egyptian leaders could look to Tehran for political and economic support, and fall under the ayatollahs’ sway in the same way as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have done.

Now that they’ve finally shown their true colors, I hope the Egyptian people will understand just how dangerous they are. A number of Iranian delegations have already begun visiting Egypt on a regular basis fordiscussions with political and religious entities. Egypt urgently needs a firm, principled captain but until then the military must stop kowtowing to demonstrators who lack real vision and hanging about on the streets, and give the Islamists a red line that cannot be crossed.

Just as it was the military that ousted King Farouk in 1952 and bravely defended Egypt against foreign aggression, it must be the military who now step-up to prevent the ship from sinking and taking the rest of us down with it. Egyptians are in the fight of their lives and if they’re unable to see that then it’s the duty of people like me, a proud Arab who has always loved Egypt, to open their eyes.

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