"President Mubarak, Egyptian judges appreciate you deeply. It was you who restored the Egyptian Supreme Judicial Council at the outset of your rule. And, you deserve credit for deciding conclusively that the Public Prosecution is an authentic branch of the judiciary.”
These hypocritical words were delivered by Serry Seyam, the head of the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Judicial Council, to the toppled president at the High Court of Justice on 11 January 2011, just days before the revolution. Serry made no mention of the fact that Mubarak and his regime transformed the Public Prosecution into a tool in the hands of the security apparatus. Nor did he acknowledge the sacrifices made by senior judges in their struggle for the judicial independence. The speech reflects a truth that Egyptians today cannot ignore: The current justice system in Egypt was part of Mubarak's regime, and he exploited it to entrench his rule.
The current justice system cannot be trusted to hold the former regime accountable for it’s systematic crimes — some of which the justice system helped enable. Since the revolution, Egypt’s Attorney General, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, has helped shield corrupt policemen and regime icons from investigations. He cannot be counted on to prosecute the very people he worked to protect.
For this reason, the families of the martyrs of the 25 January revolution are skeptical that the legal system can ensure justice for their loved ones. These fears were exacerbated by a series of recent court decisions to release officers implicated in the killing of protesters as well as former regime icons involved in corruption cases.
What can Egypt do to ensure real justice is served for the old guard?
Under the pretext of protecting the revolution, some members of the political elite are trying to employ the Treason Law (Qanun al-Ghadr), a piece of legislation introduced by the Free Officers after the 1952 revolution, to try corrupt figures from the former regime. Still, others have gone so far as to call for military tribunals for ex-officials.
In 1952, the Free Officers adopted several measures to safeguard the July revolution and to instill their own concept of justice. They formed committees to purge government departments and issued decrees — including the Treason Law — to break with the deposed monarchy. The Free Officers cared about one thing: entrenching their power, even if it came at the expense of democracy and human rights. They held exceptional trials where verdicts were often the result of political biases rather than impartial deliberations.
If anything, using the Treason Law would be a victory for despotism, not the revolution. The 2011 revolution seeks to actualize popular demands for freedom, human dignity and social justice by bringing former regime figures to justice — not just for crimes committed against Egyptians during the 18-day uprising, but over decades before. For our revolution to succeed, we need new legal procedures and that can sever all links with the former regime and protect the revolution’s legitimacy. Such a notion of revolutionary justice would pave the way for a state where the rule of law prevails.
The 1952 revolution and the 2011 revolution have two incommensurate concepts of justice. The 1952 revolution was a military coup supported by different segments of Egyptian society, but the 25 January revolution was a truly popular one. The latter’s concept of justice should be based on the principles that the Egyptian people rose up to defend: freedom, human dignity and social justice.
We should also view the crimes of the former regime in a broader perspective. Rather than treat the protesters’ deaths individually, they should be addressed as part of a larger pattern of systematic legal and human rights rights abuses — including torture, unlawful arrests, corruption, squandering public funds — that persisted over many years.
We need revolutionary justice to protect our revolution and transform Egypt into a country that upholds freedom, human dignity and social Justice. At the same time, the new Egypt should guarantee the right of former regime officials to a fair trial.
Ahmed Ragheb is a lawyer and the head of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
Translated from the Arabic Edition