There is a very real danger that mob rule is destroying Egypt’s reputation, stability and economy. While Egypt’s young revolutionaries are admired at home and abroad for the peaceful way they have conducted themselves, it would be a great shame if their efforts were stained by revenge masquerading as justice.
Egyptians are confronted with two choices. The first is a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission enabling former regime members to admit mistakes and seek amnesty. Or, alternatively, they can take the ‘off with their heads’ approach like postrevolutionary France and Russia. Sadly, it appears that the Egyptians are choosing the latter course.
On Friday, April 8, 2011, hundreds of thousands took to Tahrir Square, demanding the arrest of Hosni Mubarak and his sons. The next day, Egypt’s Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud called for their interrogation when Mr Mubarak made a defiant speech on Al-Arabiya refuting allegations of corruption and offering to open his bank accounts to the public.
On Tuesday, the frail 82-year-old was hospitalised after suffering a heart attack while under interrogation. Thousands gathered calling for Mr. Mubarak to receive the death penalty. Then, on Wednesday, Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Ala’a, were incarcerated in a cell at the notorious Tora prison while his wife, Suzanne, was being questioned.
Prominent regime figures, also behind bars at Tora, include the former Minister of the Interior - Habib Al-Adly, the Presidential Chief of Staff Zakaria Azmy, Parliamentary Speaker - Fathi Sorour, ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, businessman Ahmad El- Moghrabi and the steel tycoon - Ahmed Ezz. Their court appearances were turned into a fiasco by infiltrators to the youth movement haranguing the judge and yelling “You will die”, “You dogs”. Personally, I find it repulsive that people were calling for blood and chaos. It’s no wonder the judge walked out of the courtroom.
Those foul-mouthed accusers would do well to contemplate the Holy Quran, in particular Surat Al-Hujurat (v.6) “O you who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done.”
Also to blame are the Egyptian newspapers that are whipping-up sentiment with gloating banner headlines. Mr. Ezz’s daughter Afaf said, “The foundation of a democracy is the rule of law. This is not the rule of law, it’s a vendetta.” She’s right. It’s a vendetta fuelled by one of the basest human instincts - envy. As many as 150 businessmen are currently under investigation and at least 23 have been banned from travelling. It’s as if Egyptians are saying to the world, “Beware of investing in Egypt. Your investment is not safe.” I’m not suggesting that suspects shouldn’t be brought to justice when there is a hard-and-fast case against them. But the enthusiasm with which Egypt’s Public Prosecutor is rounding-up these people looks like a witch hunt. When the country is beset by a crime wave, the Public Prosecutor’s teams would be better employed reversing the trend instead of targeting public figures.
The question is why didn’t Abdel Maguid Mahmoud crackdown on corruption when Mubarak was in power? Was he unaware it was going on? If that’s so, then the speed of his evidence-gathering is either miraculous or was hastily done to satisfy the new “top men” ready to heap insult on Egypt’s businessmen and foreign investors. How did he complete his investigations in weeks when his French counterparts took years to compile a case against former President Jacques Chirac, and Britain has taken eight years to decide whether the Iraq War was legal?
Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor is being selective. His investigations do not stretch to those close to Mubarak in the military, such as Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and others of Mubarak’s staunchest supporters. If Mubarak is deemed to be corrupt, then they should also be scrutinised on the grounds of association. He could begin by talking with Mr Azmi who would likely be a font of information on this score.
In its role as guardian of the state, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces must get a firm grip on the country as it heads towards political and economic insecurity and counter-revolution. I would say this to the armed forces: You are the heroes of Egypt’s freedom. Do not abandon your people when they are vulnerable, when they risk falling victim to a plot to demolish the historic columns on which your country proudly stands. Only you can stop these demonstrations that have become a regular blight on Fridays, only you can prevent the crowd-pleasing humiliation of Egypt’s former leadership.
This isn’t the Egypt that I know. When a military coup deposed King Farouk in 1952, Jamal Abdul Nasser and the other Free Officers gave the monarch a 21-gun royal salute before politely escorting him to a ship sailing for Italy.
Lastly, my message to our brothers and sisters in Egypt is this: keep your heads high; maintain the moral high ground and work positively towards a bright future in which revenge should have no part. Resist playing into your enemies’ hands; they will always cheer wrong-doing. Listen instead to your true friends whose duty it is to pinpoint errors and give good advice even when the truth hurts.