Nearly four years ago, on January 25, 2011, millions of brave and patriotic Egyptians took over the streets of Cairo and demanded a change in the way they were governed. “The people want the fall of the regime” was heard around the country. It became the slogan of those wanting a future free of lengthy and arbitrary prison terms, unaccountable and corrupt government and a security state that administered the most brutal of beatings to even the slightest form of dissent.
The revolution culminated in the resignation of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak who was pushed aside by his own army after eighteen days of protests and after 29 years in power.
Today, the political climate couldn’t be more different. Egypt, for all intents and purposes, has regressed back in time to the pre-Tahrir Square period. What passes for democracy and human rights in Egypt is a joke to even Cairo’s strongest allies in the West. The current Egyptian government, voted in by over 90 percent of Egyptian voters in January, boils down to a mix of military men and former Mubarak advisors, all of whom share the goal of cracking down on any challenge to their authority.
Since the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s Muslim Brotherhood successor, tens of thousands of Egyptians have been arrested for a variety of offenses that would pass as nonviolent protest in Europe and North America. The lack of an Egyptian parliament has allowed President Abdul Fatah Sisi and his administration to pass laws that limit the freedom to express grievances peacefully, including a draconian anti-terrorism law whose provisions are so ambiguous than even a peaceful protester could theoretically be arrested on terrorism charges.
As if Egyptians needed reminding that the revolution has effectively been reversed, Mubarak, his former interior minister and six security commanders were acquitted on Saturday on charges of killing hundreds of demonstrators during the “Arab Spring” uprising.
A panel of three judges threw the case out on a technicality, citing an expired statute of limitations and preventing the prosecution from levying any murder charges on the former president and his associates.
With a single ruling, the top tier of the former Egyptian leadership was declared free of any culpability related to the killing of protesters across the country during those eighteen days in early 2011.
Speaking to a private television station after the verdict, Mubarak said he was confident all along that he would be exonerated. “I never did anything wrong,” he said, “so I just waited for what the court would present and I was declared innocent.”
For the thousands of people that lost family members during Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square protests, one can only imagine the smugness of Mubarak getting on their nerves.
The question is where Egypt goes from here. The Mubarak verdict may have been unwelcome to millions across the country but that doesn’t mean that they are angry enough to go back to the streets. After close to four years of political turmoil, multiple parliaments, multiple presidents and a growing terrorism problem that has claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers and police officers since last year, Mubarak is no longer the primary issue. Restoring a semblance of good governance, stability and economic growth trumps anything that would have happened to the former president.
Ironically, it is the military-backed government of former general Sisi that will be responsible for meeting those expectations.