Protests erupted at universities across Egypt Saturday, after an Egyptian court decided to drop criminal charges against ousted President Hosni Mubarak over the killing of 240 protesters during the 2011 uprising.
Hundreds of protestors gathered at Cairo University, waving pictures of Mubarak behind bars and demanding the “fall of the regime,” the rallying cry of the Arab Spring uprisings that shook governments from Tunisia to the Persian Gulf in 2011.
On the outskirts of Tahir Square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising, two people were killed and nine wounded when security forces used tear gas, water canons and birdshot to disperse thousands of demonstrators Saturday evening. Hundreds of students also joined in similar protests at Zagazig University, Al Azhar University, and the University of Alexandria.
Mubarak, his former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six others were sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators, but a retrial was later ordered last year on a technicality.
On Saturday, Judge Mahmoud al-Rashidi dismissed the conviction on procedural grounds, saying Mubarak’s referral to prosecution ignored an earlier decision by prosecutors not to try him. Al-Rashidi did, however, acquit Mubarak’s top security officials, including former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, of culpability in the killings, a ruling that implicitly absolves Mubarak.
The court further found that neither Mubarak, his aides, nor his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were guilty of separate charges of corruption.
Egyptians are divided over the court’s decision. While pro-Mubarak supporters erupted in cheers after the chief judge finished reading the verdicts, others, including Ahmad Abd Allah, a leader in the April 6 youth movement that helped lead protests in 2011, suggested that the outcome was entirely expected from a judiciary that remained intact after the revolution. “This wasn’t unexpected. The Mubarak era still hasn’t fallen.” Many Mubarak-era figures are slowly being cleared of charges and a series of laws curtailing political freedoms have raised fears among activists that the old leadership is regaining influence. Saturday’s verdict was seen by some as the latest sign that the rights won in 2011 were being eroded.
Outside the court, relatives of the protesters who died in the 2011 uprising reacted with fury, grief and anger. “There is no justice for the poor,” said Ramadan Ahmed, who lost his son Mohammed during the unrest. “This is Mubarak’s law.”
Saturday’s decision raises the possibility that Mubarak could soon be released from prison, as under Egyptian law, he has thus served the requisite time. Following the ruling, Egypt’s public prosecutor vowed to appeal the new decision.