WHEN DEPOSED ruler Hosni Mubarak was put on trial in 2011 by the interim military government that succeeded him, we described the prosecution as a travesty. When he was convicted in June 2012 on charges of failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators, we cited Egyptian lawyers who said the verdict ought to be reversed on appeal. That is pretty much what happened last Saturday in Cairo, where a judge threw out the murder charges and acquitted the former strongman on several unrelated corruption counts.
Those who see Mr. Mubarak’s clearing as the final step in the reversal of Egypt’s 2011 revolution nevertheless have a point. Egypt’s prosecutors and judges cater to the whims of political authorities. When the military was trying to head off mass demonstrations in 2011 demanding justice for those killed during the revolution, prosecutors slapped together a shoddy case against the former president; a court convicted him just as the Muslim Brotherhood was rising to power. Now the military is back in control, the Muslim Brotherhood is banned and its leaders, along with the secular pro-democracy activists who led the revolution, are in prison. So the judiciary knows what to do with Mr. Mubarak’s appeals.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has re-created the authoritarian regime that Mr. Mubarak headed, only in a far more repressive form. Since the coup he led 17 months ago, the regime has killed more than 1,000 people — including a slaughter of protesters in a Cairo square that, according to Human Rights Watch, was “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” It has stifled the relatively free press that Mr. Mubarak allowed, cracked down on non-government groups that he tolerated and arrested peaceful Muslim Brotherhood politicians who, during the previous regime, held seats in parliament.
While the former president will likely walk free, along with police officials who ordered the shooting of unarmed demonstrators, hundreds of those who peacefully worked for democracy face long prison sentences. Many, like liberal activists Ahmed Maher and Ahmed Douma, were convicted of violating a draconian law banning protests not approved by the government. Others, like Mohamed Soltan, a dual Egyptian-American citizen, have been held for more than a year without trial.
Mr. Sissi’s regime is also considerably more hostile to the United States than that of Mr. Mubarak. Though President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry have made it clear that they wish to forge a partnership with Mr. Sissi in spite of his record, the general has turned aside their repeated, deferential appeals that he release a few prisoners so as to justify the full restoration of U.S. military aid. The president hinted recently that the two Al Jazeera journalists with foreign passports might be freed, but they, too, remain in prison as Mr. Mubarak celebrates his acquittal.
Several U.S. presidents worked with the Mubarak regime and overlooked its disregard for democracy and human rights. Egypt, meanwhile, failed to develop economically and politically and became a prime source of the Middle East’s Islamic extremist leaders and ideology. Mr. Sissi’s attempt to restore a 20th-century autocracy is doomed to fail; so is the Obama administration’s return to a policy of appeasement.
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