Political Volatility Persists During Mubarak Trial

Aug 4, 2011
Originally published on August 5, 2011 12:25 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: We wanted to get additional perspective on the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, so we've called upon, once again, Abderrahim Foukara. He is the Washington Bureau Chief of Al Jazeera International, and he's been with us to help us make sense of all the political and social changes taking place in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: How significant an event is this for Egypt, and more broadly, for the Arab world?

FOUKARA: It's very significant. I mean, this is a country with 7,000 years of history, and probably, this is the very first time Egyptians have ever had anything like putting their leader on trial. I mean, the symbolism, the political symbolism of it is extremely powerful. It's going be extremely powerful for how the transition happens now, because one of the main grievances that - at least in the few weeks - young people have had with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is that they thought that were back-peddling on the process.

So, for them to actually put him on trial is very significant. Where things go from here is obviously a different issue.

MARTIN: Will you remind us of what the specific charges are against them?

FOUKARA: Well, the specific charges are, principally, misuse of Egypt's resources. There was that, for example, issue of selling gas to Israel over the last three decades. And a lot of people feel that those wheeling and dealing. But there's also the more - at least in the eyes of many Egyptians - serious accusations to him, that he sent his people during the revolution in Tahrir Square actually kill protestors - a very, very serious charge. And the anger that we've seen - which is quite interesting - around the trial even yesterday was much more focused on that than on other crimes that some other Egyptians are saying Mubarak either condoned or participated in during his 30-year rule of Egypt.

MARTIN: Now, you know, it may be an absurd question to some, given all that, you know, we have talked about here, but is there the possibility that the trial will indeed be far?

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, what we have heard so far is that to the extent that the legal system in Egypt can be fair, all the measures have been taken to make sure that there's due process. But, obviously, remember - and I'm just stating the obvious here - that this is the trial that's happening, that is the epicenter of political fever - the political fever sweeping Egypt right now.

FOUKARA: And there will be the instinct to actually get politics involved into the political process. There's always that risk. The judge - and this may make it a little controversial - but the judge, as many of the other people involved in the trial, whether on the side of the prosecution, the judge himself, or the defense, many of those people were actually appointed during the rule of Mubarak.

And that's why we've seen the judge, yesterday, the presiding judge, go out there and say, we will make absolutely sure that this has transparency and that it will be due process.

MARTIN: And, finally, before we let you go, I wanted to ask you about the situation in Syria, which has obviously turned deadly, has been for some time. Reports suggest that dozens of people have been killed in Hama during a government crackdown on protesters. I just wanted to ask, you know, your assessment of the situation there.

On the one hand this has been going on, you know, for months. There have been calls throughout the international community for leadership to stop this kind of violent assault on protesters. They have not heeded these calls. Can you just give us your assessment of how this situation is proceeding?

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, this is, in my estimation not entirely separate from the trial in Egypt. I mean, I don't think it's a coincidence that on the same day that Mubarak was being tried in Egypt, Assad of Syria - if it is him who is actually calling the shots because there's some disagreement about that - but to the extent that it is Assad who's calling the shots. Very significant that on the same day of Mubarak's trial, he decided to actually do what he did in Hama.

Recalling the specter of what happened with his father way back in 1982. The other thing is that it was supposed to be Ramadan, the holy month of Ramadan. So that gave an added layer of powerful shock to what happened in Hama, not just in Syria, but right across the region. And it's obviously the way I see it, a clear sign of the kind of, on the one hand, determination to crush the uprising, but it also shows you how brittle and fragile the regime now feels in Syria, that it has to resort to that sort of drastic measure.

At the end of the day, I think with the symbolism of the trial of Mubarak, for Syria, as for other countries in the region, I think the train - excuse the metaphor - the train has left the station. They may be able to hang on for a little while, but people seem to have found a voice. And they seem to have found actually the power to turn that voice, as we've seen in the trial of Mubarak in Egypt to actually turn it into action.

MARTIN: Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera International. He's been with us to give us context for these important events throughout the Arab Spring and now into the summer. And he was kind enough to join us once again in our Washington, D.C. studios. Abderrahim, thank you so much for joining us.

FOUKARA: Great to be with you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.