The conviction and life sentence of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al-Adly, on charges related to the violence and bloodshed during last year’s uprisings are, like many aspects of post-revolution life in Egypt, incomplete and dissatisfying.
Since six additional Mubarak lieutenants and the leader’s sons were acquitted, and the charges against Mubarak did not relate to corruption or systemic abuses under his 30-year reign, the trial did little to resolve the lingering sense of unease that permeates Egyptian life as the nation heads towards its first post-Mubarak presidential election. While Mubarak needed to be held accountable for his crimes, swift justice can often be a pyrrhic victory.
Much of Mubarak's influence stemmed from his ability to control every facet of civic life in Egypt, and that includes the judiciary. Prosecutors accelerated the case against him out of fear that there would be more uprisings. The trial was unprofessional and disorganized. The men cleared of wrongdoing — including the heads of the State Security Investigations, Central Security Forces, and Public Security — appear to have been given a free pass. The trial was supposed to signal a new order in Egypt, but in convicting only Mubarak and one lieutenant, it suggested instead that much of the old power structure remains entrenched.
On June 16, Egyptians will elect a new president. Their choices are the last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, or Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Shafik is catering to Egyptians’ hopes for greater stability and security; Morsi to the hopes for a new Egypt. Whoever wins will oversee a nation still grappling with Mubarak’s legacy; the recent trial did not provide any closure.
In time, Egyptians will need — through either an independent investigation or the kind of truth and reconciliation commission that post-apartheid South Africa used — to face and account for the sins of the past. For now, that will have to wait. The present is too unpredictable.