Beehive: Egypt in the Eye of the Storm: The Acquittal of Hosni Mubarak

In this article from the December 2014 issue of Beehive: Middle East Social Media, Dr. Michael Barak analyzes the reaction in Egyptian social media to the acquittal of Hosni Mubarak.
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Ever since the removal of President Mohammed Morsi and the exclusion of Muslim Brotherhood activists from political, religious and public arena in Egypt, there has been an intensive public relations campaign on social networking sites (SNS) denigrating the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Both Islamic activists from the Brotherhood and secular activists from the April 6 Youth Movement frequently demand the immediate ousting of the military regime, action to implement the goals of the January 2011 revolution, and carrying out the sentence of former president Hosni Mubarak, who has been imprisoned for the last three years after being convicted for the death of protesters during the revolution. On November 29, 2014, the discourse intensified greatly after an Egyptian court acquitted Mubarak, cleared him of all responsibility for the protesters’ deaths, and ordered that he be released from prison.

The court’s ruling prompted mixed reactions on SNS. Some secular users welcomed the decision and emphasized that Mubarak should be treated with generosity because of his contribution to the resilience of the Egypt during his 30 years in office.[1] Several even claimed that he is owed an apology for the wrong that had been done to him.[2] Conversely, there was a strong feeling of disappointment and emotional turmoil in light of the court’s decision. Many secular users recalled the memory of the demonstrators who were killed, and stressed that their blood remains abandoned following the decision of the court.[3] One noted sorrowfully, “The January revolution is dying: November 29 [2014] heralds the demise of the Egyptian judicial system.” Another commented sarcastically that the Egyptian court had ordered the removal of martyrs from their graves, so they could be accused of suicide for the purpose of shaming Pres. Mubarak.” Activists from the Brotherhood tweeted that as long as citizens who do not obey the regime are oppressed, the chances of another revolution increase.[4]

The discourse on SNS also reveals the lack of faith in the institutions of the Egypt state, which are perceived as capitulating to will of the regime, thereby becoming partners in Sisi’s discriminatory policy and shoring up his power. Both secular users and members of the Muslim Brotherhood described this as obsequiousness, and a betrayal of the Egyptian people and the January revolution. An Islamic activist tweeted that the judicial system serves as a “rod in hand of the regime;” while those close to the authorities are treated leniently, common citizens do not have access to a fair trial. Poet Ibrahim Abidi said disparagingly, “When Mubarak is released, the regime will arrest the people for falsehood."[5] It seems that many users see the institutions of the state as actors in a play whose finale was predetermined: the innocence of Mubarak.[6] Additional testimony to this feeling is a newly launched hashtag, “Acquittal feast for all.”[7] Egyptian media outlets were also accused of hypocrisy by those who noted that they spoke out against Mubarak at the beginning of the revolution, but they changed their tune and praised him once his acquittal was announced.[8] Against this backdrop, videos, standup routines and songs mocking state institutions and their leaders were uploaded to the Internet, similar to this picture in which representatives of the media, business men, the judiciary, and military are shown as marionettes controlled by Sisi.[9]

 Online discourse also accuses Sisi of governing corruptly, and the Egyptian people of being blind to the regime’s attempts to mislead it in numerous ways. For example, users discuss the government’s attempt to bribe Mahmoud Badr founder of the secular opposition movement Tamarod by granting him a license to operate a biscuit factory on land expropriated for this purpose in Kaliobia province. The willingness of Badr to accept this proposal earned him the title “Betrayer of the revolution’s principles.” Singer Mouhamed Attia‎ tweeted, “Mahmoud Badr is a clear example of someone who sold his soul to the authorities and abetted the murder of his generation’s dream, for a most despicable price."[10]

On 5 December 2014, revelation of yet another scandal reinforced the suspicion and antipathy towards the regime when an alleged telephone conversation between Counsel General Mamdouh Shahin and Sisi’s office manager, General Abbas Kamel, was leaked. In the conversation, the two were heard discussing the need to forge documents to facilitate the conviction of Mohammed Morsi when he stands trial for treason. The leaked conversation led to sharp criticism from secular users of SNS who emphasized that even those who do not support the Brotherhood are disgusted by this move, and added that the Muslim Brotherhood and the military are two sides to the same coin: both seek to establish a dictatorship while trampling the opponent. Activists in the Brotherhood claimed, on their part, that this is further proof that the regime is plotting against the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring, and wants to fortify its power.[11] In this atmosphere, activists in the Brotherhood used SNS as a stage for calling on their supporters and other opponents of the regime to take to the streets, using hashtags like “The second revolution is renewed,” “Sisi and Mubarak will fall,” and “Together we will save Egypt.”[12]

Meanwhile, members of the Muslim Brotherhood in other countries attempted to use SNS to inflame the atmosphere against the Egyptian regime. Tareq al-Suwaidan‎, head of the Brotherhood in Kuwait, tweeted: “Is it conceivable that the legal system in Egypt today rules one day to execute more than 180 people for murdering thirteen military personnel without any evidence, but cannot find even a shred of evidence for the murder of thousands at hands Mubarak and his gang?” In response, users in Egypt and Syria declared that that al-Suwaidan should focus on affairs of the Gulf states and criticized his involvement in Iraq and Egypt.[13]

In conclusion, the discourse on Egyptian SNS indicates increasing deterioration in the public’s trust of state institutions, especially legal system that, many participants in the discourse claim, is influenced by foreign interests. In other words, the acquittal of Mubarak is interpreted by many as a badge of shame for the legal system, and proof that that it is just another arm of a regime that has proven itself more interested in protecting its own power than promoting reforms. Nearly four years later, the January revolution is seen as a complete failure that has not yet led to any significant change. This perception might lead to the resumption of civil protests in Egypt, demanding genuine changes that will promote human rights and ensure freedom. One manifestation of this mood is the “Bring them to trial” PR campaign launched activists of the Tamarod 25-30 movement on December 11, 2014, demanding the resumption of Mubarak’s trial. Against this background, the attempt by activists in Muslim Brotherhood to inspire the public to take to the streets for another revolution is evident, although it seems that, for the moment, they are unable to propel the public into the streets.

 



[2] See for example the Facebook page, “I’ sorry.” https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/أسف_ياريس/

[3] #الحكم_بعد_المكالمة

[4]  #محاكمة_مبارك., https://goo.gl/ba1rv7, 29 November 2014.

[5] #براءة_مبارك

[6] #القضاء_الشامخ, https://goo.gl/vgX1e5, 20 December 2014.

[7] #مهرجان_البراءة_للجميع

[8] #براءة_مبارك; See also a video edited by an Egyptian youth, https://goo.gl/rUwMA2.

[9] See also the video, “We acquitted him and slapped the people. https://goo.gl/zum81h.

[10] #مصنع_البسكويت, https://goo.gl/tN89Yt, 17 December 2014.

[11] #ممدوح_شاهين. #تسريب_مكتب_السيسي

[12] #ثورة_تاني_من_جديد, #يسقط_يسقط_سيسي_مبارك, #معا_ننقذ_مصر; https://goo.gl/dBpdQI; https://goo.gl/O81Pwz