In the first trial of a leader ousted during the Arab Spring uprisings, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister Habib el-Adly were both sentenced to life in prison on Saturday. But senior security officials were acquitted on lack of evidence and Mubarak's sons were found innocent of corruption charges, fueling the anger of thousands of protesters who took to the streets across Egypt on Sunday.
Critics argued that Mubarak, 84, deserved a death sentence following the killing of some 850 protesters during Egypt's uprising. The release of his security officials meanwhile was interpreted as a gradual reversal of protesters' hard-won freedoms.
Tensions are running high ahead of an upcoming presidential election, the first to follow the end of Mubarak's three-decade rule. The run-off on June 16 and 17 will pit Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Morsi.
Mubarak's sons Alaa and Gamal saw corruption charges against them quashed, but remain in jail pending another case. Citing a lack of evidence, the judge acquitted senior security officials, a decision that worried lawyers for victims' families who said it could help Mubarak win any future appeal. Mubarak's defense team has pledged to challenge the ruling and told news agency AFP it was confident of winning an appeal.
Meanwhile, demonstrations are set to continue. The pro-democracy April 6 Youth Movement, the Coalition of Revolution Youth and the Maspero Youth Union are among those calling for a mass protest on Tuesday at Tahrir Square, the hub of last year's uprising.
Protesters have voiced their outrage at the judge's failure to sentence Mubarak to death. Many also fear that if his former Interior Minister Shafiq wins the upcoming presidential election, he may reverse Saturday's ruling.
Five of the six security chiefs were freed early on Monday, but the head of the now-dissolved state security apparatus, Hassan Abdel Rahman, remains in prison during an investigation into another case in which he is accused of destroying state security documents.
The verdicts sparked international criticism. Human rights organisation Amnesty International praised Mubarak's sentence, but warned the security chiefs' acquittal "leaves many still waiting for full justice."
German editorialists echoed the dissatisfaction with the ruling on Monday, citing concerns that the aims of last year's uprising are still far from being achieved.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"This apparent justice is deceptive. The whole court case was like a bad theater play. The ruling is just the penultimate act -- Mubarak will have the final triumph. It was the old justice system that ruled on Mubarak, the same prosecutors and judges, who ordered the regime's opponents into prisons and torture chambers. The prosecutors staged a suit against the former ruler -- but they deliberately failed to provide any evidence. Therefore Mubarak's life sentence will not be able to stand up to any future appeal."
"Egypt's election is in two weeks. If his political companion Ahmed Shafiq wins, then Mubarak may be farcically pardoned on humanitarian grounds. This gloomy prospect has provoked many thousands of people back to Tahrir Square. Demonstrators must persistently challenge the powerful elites. The Egyptian revolution is at risk."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The security officers were set free because the public prosecutor's office did not do its job and the interior ministry failed to cooperate. Hard evidence of the officers' involvement in the order to shoot, which killed 840 demonstrators, has magically disappeared. Meanwhile, in the Ministry of Interior, a prevalent team spirit means that no one will reveal who was directly involved."
"Egyptians on the streets must quickly funnel their justifiable anger into political channels. That is the first lesson in democracy in the new Egypt."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The punishment of Mubarak and interior minister el-Adly meant that while the protagonists were castigated, those who carried out their orders were not. It is as if the corrupt system can be mended by simply removing those at the top ... But the protesting masses on the streets and fires in the office of the presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq show (that removing those from the top) is not enough."
"Liberals are already hoping that anger about the Mubarak case will ignite a second revolution -- if only they could offer new, more unified political parties and thus help people forget how they have weakened democracy with their inconsequential lofty debates. Until recently they did not even manage to whole-heartedly support a single presidential candidate, something which greatly boosted Mubarak's faction."
"Egyptians have become skeptical. They can already predict which political or judicial constellations could enable Mubarak and el-Adly to be set free. Nothing can be ruled out: A new president; an official pardon. Some 15 months after Mubarak's fall from power, Egypt is as unpredictable as it was on the first day."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The failure to charge Mubarak's sons and high-ranking security officials comes across as a gradual restoration of power to the old elite. That is what has riled protesters in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez."
"The election in two weeks' time is between Shafiq, as a representative of the old regime, and a big coalition of diffuse powers, which are only unified by the fight against the remains of the oppressive state. That will lead to more confrontation during the arduous process of democratic consolidation, despite the fact that Mubarak has been officially brought to account."
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