Egypt's law comes to the aid of Mubarak's former cronies
Strict application of the law got Ahmed Ezz, Hosni Mubarak's right-hand man, out of jail. But for thousands of faceless protesters, the law means little.
Ahmed Ezz sat at Hosni Mubarak's right hand for years. He controlled two-thirds of the steel market, led the budget committee as a member of Parliament, and held a senior position in the ruling party.
For the 2011 revolutionaries, he embodied the corruption that enriched the former president's inner circle at the expense of the masses. His house was set ablaze three times during the uprising.
In 2012, Mr. Ezz was convicted on a number of corruption charges and sentenced to prison, but was granted a retrial months later. On Monday, he was released on bail because he had reached the end of the time period for detention permitted by law.
The corruption cases against Mr. Mubarak’s inner circle have proceeded in strict adherence to Egypt's law – a stark contrast to the treatment meted out to thousands of protesters thrown in jail since last July's military coup against former president Mohamed Morsi.
On the same day that Ezz was released, a trio of activists who led the 2011 uprising appeared in a Cairo courtroom, their bodies bearing the signs of a fresh beating. From their caged dock, they shouted that they had been tortured while in prison, and beaten by the policemen who escorted them to trial.
The activists, Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel, are from the April 6 youth movement, which spearheaded Mr. Mubarak’s overthrow. They are among the first to be tried under a controversial protest law enacted late last year, as authorities sought to quell widespread demonstrations.
According to a tally by the Cairo-based Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, more than 21,000 people have been arrested since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. Lawyers report that the majority of their clients have faced myriad abuses of their rights in detention, ranging from being held for long periods without charge to being denied the legally specified food rations.
The sheer volume of arrests has overwhelmed the Egyptian prosecution system. Many detainees have attended pre-trial hearings in prisons and riot police camps, often without access to lawyers.
“People are not being afforded basic due process,” says Karim Ennarah, a criminal justice researcher with the Egyptian Center for Personal Rights (EIPR) in Cairo. “If you look at the [April 6] case, the activists were tried in a police institution, where they had been beaten by the police.”
He describes the setting as “an affront to the basic guarantees of judicial independence”.
Lack of evidence
In contrast, the cases of Mubarak-era businessmen who were imprisoned on corruption charges have followed the law to the letter.
“We have seen very few final verdicts, and the majority of those have been acquitted, often due to a lack of strong evidence being presented in court, or because the time frame within which illegal activity can be investigated has expired,” says Osama Diab, who researches the corruption cases for EIPR.
Ezz’s release on bail was ordered due to the fact that the legal period within which he could be held without a conviction – two years – had expired.
On finding himself in prison after Egypt’s revolution, the steel magnate wrote a letter arguing that his prosecution should not be influenced by Egyptians' desire for revenge.
“My hope is that this commitment to a bright future for Egypt is not undermined at its first hurdle through a desire to find scapegoats,” it read. “I truly hope I can at least depend on a full representation of the facts, due legal process and a fair trial."
His request appears to have largely been met, but members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood face trumped up charges.
“What is happening now confirms that revenge is being taken on the 25 January revolution,” wrote April 6 activist Ahmed Maher in his own set of letters, smuggled out of Cairo’s notorious Torah prison in January.
“It is only a matter of months before Mubarak returns and all what was before the 25 January revolution returns."