The acquittal of former president Mubarak from charges of killing demonstrators and of corruption is a logic consequence of the current balance of power in Egypt. Still there is in many circles real shock and disappointment at the news, and for the first time in very long several thousands of demonstrators tried to march on Tahrir, while shouting the old 2011 slogan “the people want the downfall of the regime”.
The regime is continuing its clampdown on any opposition, almost weekly demonstrators are killed and tens or hundreds sent to jail. Still one and a half year after the coup no date has been set for parliamentary elections which were supposed to have taken place this fall, ever prolonging the situation where laws are issued by presidential decree. These laws continue to give ever wider prerogatives to the president, the military and the security forces. All public buildings have for instance been put under the protection of the military, so that for instance a student demonstrator accused of breaking a window in a university building can be put before military court. The latest new law, on “terrorist entities” deserves to be quoted at length. Its article one defines terrorist entities as: “any association, organization, group or gang that attempts to, aims to or calls for destabilizing public order; endangers society’s wellbeing or its interests of safety; harms individuals or terrorizes them, or endangers their lives or freedoms or rights or safety; endangers social unity; harms the environment or natural resources or monuments or communications or transportation or funds or buildings or public or private property, or occupies them; obstructs the work of public authorities or the judiciary or government entities or local municipalities or houses of worship or hospitals or scientific institutions or diplomatic missions or international organizations; blocks public or private transportation, or roads; harms national unity or national peacefulness; obstructs the implementation of the constitution or laws or bylaws; uses violence or power or threats or acts of terrorism to achieve one of its goals.”
In practice this gives the authorities carte blanche to use anti-terrorist measures against any group they see fit to exclude from public life.
Yet, despite the fact that so far these oppressive policies have not been matched with any discernible improvement of the living conditions of the population or any serious effort to root out corruption, it will most likely take some time for an opposition to emerge that is likely to shake the power of the generals and the Mubarak-age state apparatchiks and crony capitalists who are busy reasserting themselves. There are several reasons for this. One is that there is a revolution fatigue in much of the population and a concurrent longing for peace and order. As important is the continued split between the Islamists in general and most particularly the Muslim Brothers, and the secular (and even some reformist Islamist) opposition forces.
This split made the massive protests against Mursi on 30 June 2013 possible, which the army took as a green card to remove the elected president on 3 July. Since then the core of the new police state being built is a massive suppression of the largest political and social movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers. The movement and its political party have been banned and declared as terrorist organisations, its leadership is either in exile or in prison camps; many have received life sentences and some have death sentences hanging over their head. Tens of thousands of ordinary members and sympathisers are also imprisoned. This is accompanied by a campaign of demonisation unprecedented since the 1950s. Virtually every newspaper, government owned and private alike, day out and day in are filled with headlines portraying the Muslim Brothers as terrorists responsible for every act of violence in the country.
The level of hysteria drummed up is well exemplified by the text of the verdict of innocence in the case against Mubarak, where the judge vilifies the Muslim Brothers as plotting to take over power in early 2011 and “coordinating with Hamas and Hizbullah to bring down the Egyptian state on 28 January” and that “its militias opened fire on the bodies of the demonstrators and the police”. Several newspapers the day after the verdict was announced ran big headlines in red letters posing the open question “So who is the killer?”. It would sadly not be surprising if the next twist is yet another court case against the MB, now for killing the demonstrators on 28 January 2011 (including many of their own members).
As sad, and not only for the Muslim Brothers, is that no one among Egypt’s secular political elite (nor among those Islamists who are still allowed to speak publicly) comes to their defence. While the physical and mental campaign against them is the hard core of the current repression, the few people who dare publicly criticise the regime do not take up this core. Some speak of the need to abandon repressive legislation and even to free political prisoners. But no one says plainly: lift the ban on the Muslim Brothers, stop the phoney trials and let their members out of jail.