The Debate over Gamal Mubarak

The Debate over Gamal Mubarak

The release of Alaa and Gamal Mubarak was seen as a staggering blow to the January 25 Revolution by its supporters. While the Mubarak brothers were released on bail in accordance with article 143 of the Criminal Procedures Law, which states that preventive detention should not exceed 18 months, the uneasiness with which the ruling was greeted was not surprising. Between the symbolic failure of the revolution and the actual repercussions of their possible return to the public scene lie numerous concerns, speculations, and apprehensions.

Legal experts argue that it was impossible to keep Alaa and Gamal Mubarak detained any longer. “Only in cases where capital punishment is applicable can defendants be detained pending trial for two years instead of a year and a half,”says Judge Ahmed Haroun, head of the Cairo Criminal Court. The Mubarak sons are not facing charges in which the death penalty can be applied, but upon their re-trial in the pending corruption cases, it will be up to the court to return them to jail as the trial proceeds. According to law professor and former dean of the Law School at Cairo University Mahmoud Kobeish, if they do not show up at the trial, arrest warrants will be issued for both of them. A retrial date has yet to be set.

Apart from the technicalities of the verdict, the bigger question is how it will play out now that Gamal and Alaa have been released. Much of this has focused on Gamal, since among the driving forces behind the 2011 uprising was the belief that he was being groomed as heir-apparent to the Egyptian presidency.

Speculations are rife in the Egyptian media about whether Gamal intends to keep a low profile or plans to restore his past influence. Former Member of Parliament Abdullah al-Mughazi, and a supporter of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, linkedGamal’s release to the August 2014 release of business tycoon and secretary general of the now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) Ahmed Ezz, who was also one of Gamal’s closest aides. “They are likely to attempt to reunite NDP members, especially since Ezz has already announced his intention to run in parliamentary elections and is reported to have met with several leaders in the disbanded party,” he said. According to Judge Refaat al-Sayed, Alaa and Gamal can both vote and run in national elections since neither has been convicted. Nothing has been said, however, about Gamal exercising this political right, while Ezz has already submitted the papers for his candidacy, as has his wife.

Parliamentary elections are not seen as the only channel through which Gamal might try to regain his influence.  According to political analyst Ammar Ali Hassan, money could be a main factor in the equation. “The Mubarak sons, together with members of the former regime, are expected to curry favor with the current regime by offering it financial support,” he writes. “But if President Sisi gives in, his popularity will be deeply affected and the relationship between the people and the state is bound to sour.” Hassan also notes that the Mubarak regime was never truly uprooted, it could easily make a return. “All the ruling regimes since the revolution have not really taken enough measures to eliminate the influence of Mubarak’s men.”

The return of Gamal Mubarak to the political scene is seen by many as next to impossible. Sameh Ashour, the head of the Lawyer’s Syndicate believes the Mubaraks have lost any support they may have had. “Their influence came to an end once people rose against them,” he says. “Those who supported Gamal did so to serve their interests at the time when he was influential. Now, nothing is to be gained from any alliance with him.” Ashour admits that some members of the former regime might take part in the elections, but he believes their only asset is money, and that they do not enjoy popular support.

Journalist Abdullah al-Sinnawi argues that no faction or party would agree to form an alliance with Gamal. “The last thing political figures need now is to associate their names with the Mubarak regime, especially since Gamal and Alaa might go back to prison.” Sinnawi also notes that Gamal’s failure in the political domain is expected to discourage people from supporting him if he decides to return. “Gamal Mubarak failed in running the country when he was head of the NDP’s Policies Committee and his role in the political scene was a major reason for the January 25 Revolution.”

Those who find it unlikely for Gamal Mubarak to find a place in the Egyptian political scene are probably right. After all, Gamal’s possible inheritance of power made him just as hated as his father. In fact, while some Egyptians may have sympathy for Hosni Mubarak, citing his age, or the necessary respect a former leader should be afforded, Gamal has not earned a similar respect within these circles. While news has already circulated that Gamal may run in the 2018 presidential elections, this seems to be the product of nothing more than an overactive rumor mill, especially in light of the popularity the current president enjoys. If any member of the Mubarak family is to have any influence, be it economic or political, this will likely not happen without a green light from the current regime. However, even if they remain ostracized from Egypt’s political life, the release of the Mubaraks is a major defeat to a revolution in which no one has been held accountable for thirty years of corruption, abuse of power, and tyranny.

Assessing Egypt’s campaign against Sinai militants

The latest attacks on military targets in the Sinai were seen as the most shocking, not only because of the number of casualties, the penetration of highly-secured areas, or the advanced tactics used by the assailants, but also because the attacks followed a series of reportedly successful campaigns against militant strongholds in THE PENINSULA.

The last factor in particular was a source of concern among analysts, who underlined the necessity of contemplating whether the state is making any actual progress in eliminating terrorism.

The first official reaction to the Jan. 29 bombings said they were driven by the “successful strikes carried out by the army and the police against militants and their strongholds in North Sinai, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to wreak havoc on the fourth anniversary” of the Jan. 25 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

General Alaa Ezz el-Din, director the Armed Forces Center for Strategic Studies, said the attacks are a sign that militants are “becoming increasingly desperate” following successful strikes against them.

Writer and sociologist Al-Sayed Yassin said the army is fighting a global war and protecting the world from terrorism, which is why the mission will take time. “Terrorism is threatening the whole world since it is based on a set of fixed ideas to which youths from everywhere are attracted,” he wrote, adding that Egypt cannot face this growing threat alone.

Yassin underlined the difficulty of garnering international support for Egypt’s efforts. “Calls for international cooperation will be obstructed by superpowers, especially the United States, which are conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to serve their political interests.”

Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian’s correspondent in Egypt, sees the state’s inability to contain attacks as related to its enemy, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. “In reality no one knows exactly who runs it, or how centralized its operations are, nor its relationships with local tribes, other smaller militant groups in Sinai, or al-Qaeda itself,” he wrote, adding that it has not been possible to know the number of militants launching such attacks, but that they are reportedly increasing.

Ill equipped

Former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, Zvi Mazel, wrote that Egypt’s army “is not prepared for a guerilla war since its training mostly focused on conventional wars that have not been taking place in the Middle East for years.”
The army, Mazel added, is not only facing extremist militants but also Sinai locals. “These are Bedouins who are not willing to cooperate with a state that has for decades marginalized them. That is why they cooperated with Hamas in building tunnels and some of them even joined jihadi operatives to avenge themselves on the state under the name of Islam.”

What makes Egypt’s job harder, he added, is a lack of support from the West. “It is quite surprising that Egypt is not getting support from the West, especially the United States which continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood and which can provide the training the Egyptian army needs for this type of war. The same applies to the European Union that is not making any effort to help Egypt.”

For Borzou Daragahi, the Financial Times correspondent in Cairo, the attacks “brought into question claims by the armed forces that their hardline security strategy was working in Sinai.” Borzou said targeting one of the Egyptian army’s most formidable units, Battalion 101, highlights the growing strength of militants.

He referred to the commentary of H A Hellyer, Egypt and Middle East specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, about the sophistication of the recent attack compared to earlier ones. “It is one thing to kill two dozen people in a single place. It is another to target a dozen places at once,” said Hellyer. “The latter is far more effective and disruptive.”

Hellyer added: “The armed forces seem to be getting the guys they say they’re getting. But if the point to their counter-insurgency efforts was to ensure that attacks like this don’t take place, obviously they failed.”

Comprehensive plan

Journalist Mohamed Azzam said the state “needs to have a comprehensive plan, and the security dimension should only be part of it. In all confrontations between the state and religious extremists through the eras of [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, [Anwar] Sadat and Mubarak, this approach has not only proven a failure, but also made terrorist groups grow fiercer.”

According to Azzam, a comprehensive plan should comprise three parts. The security dimension, which means military strikes, is one. “The second is development. If Sinai remains undeveloped it will remain an easy shelter to all clandestine groups.”

The third is Sinai residents becoming active participants in Egyptian politics. “Political marginalization plays a major role in encouraging locals to take up arms against the state or join groups that do.”


Journalist Mohamed Hani said the state’s reaction to every attack demonstrates its failure. “After each terrorist attack, we only hear vows of revenge and calls for supporting the state in its war on terrorism, but that is it,” he wrote.

“Those who question the state’s approach or demand an explanation on how highly-secured areas can be attacked are accused of treason or supporting terrorism.” Hani said the state is trying to distract Egyptians from its inability to eliminate terrorism.

Writer Michel Naguib attributes the state’s failure to “draining rather than eliminating terrorism. The state has not been targeting terrorist cells on a regular basis, but rather waits until a terrorist attack takes place in order to launch military strikes until it drains militants temporarily, then forces withdraw to their barracks away from volatile areas. This allows militants to regroup and get more weapons to strike again.”

Naguib said the recent establishment of a special military command permanently based in the Sinai is the only hope in reversing this failure. However, “this decision came very late, after terrorists… already built an infrastructure, obtained new weapons, and agreed on the next targets.”

The challenges of tackling female genital mutilation in Egypt

The first doctor to face trial for performing female genital mutilation (FGM) was handed a two-year jail sentence with hard labor for manslaughter, and another three months for performing an illegal practice.

The case, the first to be referred to criminal court after FGM was officially banned in 2008, was filed by the National Population Council (NPC) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) following the death of a 13-year-old at the doctor’s clinic. The operation was performed at the request of her father, who was sentenced to three months in the same case.

The verdict is the first to herald a serious move from the theoretical ban on FGM to the practical prosecution of its perpetrators. “The verdict is a triumph for women,” said lawyer Reda al-Danbouki, head of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, and who represented the deceased.

Debate is ongoing, however, about how far such a step can eliminate a practice that has for decades been regularly observed in several parts of Egypt. “The victims of female genital mutilation are finally vindicated,” said the Egyptian Feminist Union, in reference to scores of young girls who die in the process.

“This is a historic verdict which proves that children are not the property of their parents and warns that supporting circumcision implies approving subsequent deformation and/or death and makes all parties involved accomplices in the crime.” The statement, however, said further procedures were required to curb and eventually eliminate the phenomenon.

“The penalty for practicing female genital mutilation should be intensified through modifying article 240 of the Penal Code. The Doctors’ Syndicate should also take a firm stance against any doctor who performs circumcision.” The statement referred to the challenge facing rights organizations, with surveys estimating the percentage of Egyptian women undergoing circumcision at 91 percent.

NPC rapporteur Atef al-Shitani hailed the verdict as historic, especially since the law has been in place for seven years. Shitani said FGM is not only prohibited by the law, but also by the constitution, though this is still not enough. “Articles 11, 18 and 80 of the Egyptian constitution state that women and children are to be protected from all sorts of violence and abuse, but work on the ground is the most effective.

“The NPC, for example, launched the National Program for Family Empowerment and the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. This program raises awareness about the danger of the practice, alerts people across Egypt that it is illegal, and encourages families to report doctors who practice it.”

UNICEF representative in Egypt Philippe Duamelle said the verdict “is a precedent and sends out a strong signal that FGM, which still affects the lives of so many girls each year, is no longer to be tolerated.” However, he underlined the obstacles faced by any institution that campaigns against the practice.

Tradition or religion?

“I know how delicate it is to address cultural norms and traditions here, but with all due respect to cultural norms and traditions, those which have such dramatic negative impact on people have to be changed and abandoned. Now what is important is not just that the progress continues, but that progress accelerates,” Duamelle said. “This would happen by not only having a solid legal framework, but also in enforcing these laws.”

Journalist Deena Adel Eid said traditions constitute the main challenge to eliminating FGM. “Many in Egypt believe that FGM is rooted in religion, and that it is parents’ duty as Muslims to cut their daughters,” she wrote, adding that this was not changed by Al-Azhar’s statement dissociating the practice from Islamic law. “Many Christian families in Egypt also practice FGM, claiming they are continuing the practice for ‘moral’ reasons – FGM is viewed as a sign of a woman’s chastity.”

Vivian Fouad, a leading member in the NPC campaign, said even though FGM is linked more to morals than religion, figures trusted by the public play a major role in lending it legitimacy. “Part of it is myth. Many still wrongly believe that if they don’t circumcise girls, they will grow up to be sex-obsessed creatures – a belief that is perpetuated by respected community and religious leaders, who also circumcise their daughters.”

This “myth,” Eid added, takes precedence over the law. “Families who carry on the practice believe it’s essential for religious and moral reasons and value the time-honored tradition over the new law. Thus, cases of FGM largely go unreported.”

The statement issued by Al-Azhar against FGM was supported by a fatwa from Dar al-Iftaa, the body in charge of issuing religious edicts, which said FGM was “prohibited in Islam.”

However, many religious scholars disagree, including those from Al-Azhar. Professor Abdel Ghaffar Helal said while FGM is not obligatory in Islam, it is also not prohibited. “FGM is, in fact, recommended,” he said. “The real problem is not in circumcision as a practice, but in the fact that many of those who perform it are not qualified. That is why I call for prosecuting doctors who harm girls during circumcision.”

Hanaa Abu Shahba, professor of psychology at Al-Azhar, called FGM “a double-edged weapon,” acknowledging that it was traumatic for girls who undergo it, but adding that sometimes it is necessary. “If the girl’s genitals are oversized, she becomes like men in the way she wants to have sex all the time, which is very humiliating to her. A specialist has to be consulted about whether the girl needs to have part of her genitals removed.”

Ibtesam Morsi, professor of sociology at Al-Azhar, condemned the practice but objected to the methods used to fight it. “It is not wise to criminalize circumcision all of a sudden,” she said. “Instead, society should have been gradually prepared for abandoning the practice through the media outlets, schools, and awareness campaigns that acquaint people with the fatal risks involved in the process.”

Morsi said the law simply drove many to circumvent it rather than stop the practice altogether. “People are going back to taking their girls to midwives for circumcision after several doctors started refusing to perform the procedure for fear of persecution following the official ban.”

It is noteworthy that the verdict was passed after much lobbying by anti-FGM activists, since the prosecutor at the time of the girl’s death in June 2013 refused to refer the case to court, said Danbouki.

“The prosecutor himself saw female genital mutilation as a necessity. In fact, he sympathized with the doctor,” Danbouki explained. “It was only when he was replaced by another prosecutor that we were able to go ahead with the lawsuit. Even then, the father and the doctor were both acquitted until we appealed and finally a judge that understands.”