Leading article: Darkness starts to fall on the Egyptian spring


Related Topics

The verdict on Hosni Mubarak could not have come at a worse time. Discontent was already rumbling in Egypt before the conclusion of the trial of the former dictator. And although the aim was to draw a line under the past, clearing the air for the first presidential election since the fall of the regime 16 months ago, the ruling has, instead, only added to the sense of a hard-fought revolution slipping away.

Judge Ahmed Refaat may have made the right noises, celebrating the end of "30 years of darkness" and lauding "the sons of the nation who rose up peacefully for freedom and justice". But Mr Mubarak's crime was ruled to be one of omission – in failing to stop the violence that claimed more than 800 lives – rather than the graver offence of ordering it. Meanwhile, the former President and his two sons were acquitted of corruption charges and, worse, six lesser officials on trial for their parts in the bloodshed walked free.

Despite all the understandably outraged demonstrations that followed, the symbolic value of the trial cannot be wholly overlooked. For an Arab leader to be brought to book, by a domestic court, is a seminal moment, not only for Egypt but for the entire region. Neither is the relative leniency of a life sentence to be lamented. It would have been unseemly and inhumane to sentence to death so old and ill a man as Mr Mubarak, who attended court strapped to a hospital bed and suffered some further crisis following the verdict. But while the prosecution case may indeed have been weak, and the trial legally fair, the outcome cannot but foster suspicions that the old regime has been at best decapitated, not truly dismantled.

Such misgivings are far from new. Sporadic protests since the fall of the Mubarak regime have been put down with force. The interim military council has also failed to instigate much-needed reforms of either the judiciary or the police, and minimal effort has been made to find those responsible for last year's violence.

Even last week's watershed moment – the expiry of Mr Mubarak's three-decade state of emergency – may not be all it seems. There is little sign that detainees held under the now-defunct law will be released, and the tribunals convened to try protesters continue. On all counts, therefore, the military has crimped the high hopes of the revolution, and hints that it will play an overbearing role in defining the newly elected President's powers are further cause for concern.

It is for the presidential elections that the verdict on Mr Mubarak and his henchmen has the profoundest implications. To the disappointment of many of the young, liberal protesters who led last year's demonstrations, the run-off in two weeks' time is between two candidates who personify the divide between the old guard and the Islamists they fought to transcend.

The choice was never a comfortable one, and it is Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, who gains most now. His opponent, Ahmed Shafik, had hoped to benefit from liberals' wariness of Islamism in any form. But the offices of the former Mubarak-era Prime Minister were attacked in the aftermath of the weekend's verdict; and amid speculation that he might, as President, pardon his former boss, Mr Morsi spoke out for the protesters and vowed to retry the acquitted officials.

The prospect of an Islamist President remains a disconcerting one, for all Mr Morsi's alleged commitment to freedom of expression and women's rights. But what Egypt needs above all else is a government with sufficient credibility to deal with the country's growing economic problems and to heal the social fractures caused by 30 years of despotic misrule. With protesters returning once again to Tahrir Square, that need is greater than ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot