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Should Mubarak Trial Worry Middle East's Monarchs?: Noe & Waad

By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad

   

August 8 (Bloomberg) -- The stunning image of the ex-Egyptian president in the
dock last week provoked many commentators throughout the Mideast to embrace
the idea of an authoritarian ruler being brought to account.

   

Even independently owned newspapers generally supportive of their own monarchs
and “presidents-for-life” ran columns and editorials overwhelmingly praising
the Egyptian judicial process as Hosni Mubarak made his first court appearance
in his trial on charges of corruption and murder, which he denies.

   

It was "a memorable day in the history of Egypt” and the entire Arab nation,
wrote columnist Rashid Hasan in Jordan's Ad-Dustour, a pro-monarchy daily.
Mubarak is said to be suffering from a heart ailment and was bed-ridden
throughout his court appearance. The trial, Hasan wrote, demonstrates that
“the president of the republic is not a Pharaoh but a public employee, on whom
laws and regulations are applied and, accordingly, that he can be put on
trial.” Egypt is no longer “a ranch for the ruler, and the Egyptian people are
no longer mere slaves on the president's farm,” he concluded. Hasan did not
refer to the widening protest movement against the regime in his own country.

   

In the same newspaper, columnist Rakan al-Majali went further, writing:

   

  It is no longer a secret in the Arab world that authoritarian rule has been
  the root of all evil. And it is not a secret that some rulers believed they
  were demigods.

   

Al-Majali wrote, “I remembered this when I watched ousted President Mubarak
put on trial and recent tensions in Arab countries.” He did not specify which
countries he meant.

   

In an editorial, the Saudi-based, pro-monarchy Al-Jazirah, a daily, noted that
the Egyptian judiciary is “known for its ability to conduct fair trials." It
continued:

   

  This was clear in the first session of the trial, which is an historic event
  by any standard and which will contribute to ending unstable conditions in
  Egypt. The trial of the former president was a popular demand that has been
  achieved.

   

In Qatar, a monarchy, columnist Taha Khalifah took the argument one step
further, arguing in a piece published by the newspaper Al-Rayah:

   

  The message of the trial goes beyond Mubarak and the people of Egypt. It
  speaks to other Arab leaders and peoples in that this may be their destiny
  too. For that reason, the tyrants of the countries where revolutions have
  been staged are trying to cling to power and brutally quell the revolutions
  because their fall means entering the dock like Mubarak.

   

In Israel, one of the main Arabic dailies, Kul Al-Arab, more directly attacked
its own government, saying in an editorial that Mubarak’s trial represents
“the fate of those who do not respect the will of their people, the fate of
the thieves, and the fate of those who believe that Israel and America are
capable of protecting them regardless of the obscenities they commit against
their people.”

   

In Egypt, there was even more widespread praise for the trial. Several dailies
that had long served as mouthpieces for Mubarak expressed popular feelings of
jubilation but warned of potential pitfalls along the route to justice.

   

The most widely circulated daily, Al-Ahram, wrote in an editorial that there
was “no doubt” Mubarak regrets “abandoning his people's rights.” But regret
and remorse “are useless.”

   

The rest of the Arab leaders should "learn the lesson" from seeing "the first
Arab leader in a dock” not tainted by foreign occupation, as in Iraq.
Otherwise, they will “continue to shed the blood of their people to remain in
their positions, which will not last no matter what they do.”

   

In a subsequent editorial, the daily acknowledged that “some flaws” had
affected the first day of the trial.

   

  Quite honestly, there was an impression that some attorneys wanted to earn
  the widest fame possible, which is why they deployed massive efforts to
  appear and speak as long as possible without any given reason.

   

The courtroom, Al-Ahram warned, is a “miniature model of any society” and if
sensationalism prevails over it -- a reference to one lawyer who insisted on
DNA testing to see if the man in court was actually Mubarak -- “this will
prove that society is enduring the same problems. So please, let us all offer
a civilized image of a just and democratic Egypt in a post-revolution phase.”

   

One columnist stood out against the overall trend: Tariq Al-Homayed,
editor-in-chief of the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, a daily owned by a
leading member of the Saudi royal family.

   

“Egypt is going from bad to worse,” he lamented.

   

  Mubarak and his sons were brought to court, with the former president being
  wheeled into the dock in his sickbed, in a scene that does not point to
  justice so much as it points to a desire for revenge and retribution against
  a former president who stepped down from power in the face of popular
  pressure.

   

This last assertion departed from conventional wisdom among most Arab
columnists -- even those writing in other Saudi-owned newspapers -- that
Mubarak was in fact forced from power against his will.

   

Continuing, Al-Homayed hit on a theme that a number of other commentators also
broached: the need to connect Mubarak’s trial to one for Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad, who, Al-Homayed wrote, "is openly killing his own people
today.” According to human rights organizations, more than 1,600 Syrians have
been killed in the last few months, and the regime has now resorted to
full-fledged assaults in major cities across the country.

   

In Egypt, more than 800 people died in the weeks before Mubarak relinquished
the presidency.

   

Al-Homayed concluded by turning to Iraq. “The Egyptian people must ask
themselves the following questions today: is Iraq now witnessing its best
times after Saddam Hussein was brought to trial and executed? Are the Iraqis
today witnessing a good state of affairs under a regime that called for
revenge?” he asked, referring to the government of Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, who approved the execution of ex-President Saddam.

   

He argued that Mubarak’s court appearance “was nothing more than a day of
revenge against an unarmed and sick man.” Instead of a trial, al-Homayed
recommended that Egypt adopt the South African model of a national
reconciliation process, including a general amnesty, for Mubarak and others,
“in order to help to build a strong state.”

   

That was a suggestion not likely to find many followers, given the strength of
the consensus that in trying Mubarak, Egypt was on the right path and the
defendant was just where he ought to be.

   

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View
blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)

   

To contact the writers of this article:

   

noe@mideastwire.com.

   

To contact the editor responsible for this article:

   

Lisa Beyer at lbeyer3@bloomberg.net or +1-212-205-0372.

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