Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons detained Wednesday for 15 days for corruption investigations, in what appeared to be a response by Egypt’s military rulers to escalating pressure from protesters to see their former ruler behind bars.
Egyptian state television reported that Mr. Mubarak’s son Gamal, who just six months ago was widely seen as being groomed to take power, and his older brother Alaa were transferred to Cairo to be detained in Tora prison after the public prosecutor ordered them held as the investigation unfolds.
Mubarak himself was reportedly being interrogated in the Sharm El Sheikh hospital that admitted him Tuesday after he reportedly had a heart attack after questioning began at his residence. Local media reported that he would be transferred to a hospital in Cairo for the investigation.
While there is scattered sympathy for Mubarak, public anger far outweighs it. Last Friday, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to demand their former president, his family, and his cronies be put on trial for allegedly using state funds for personal gain.
Mubarak and his family have been under house arrest in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh since he was forced from power by a popular uprising Feb 11. The thought of the former president staying in a luxury villa on the beach had infuriated many Egyptians. Recently, they had begun to direct that anger toward the military council ruling Egypt until new elections are held.
The head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, spent years as Mubarak's defense minister. Many accused the military Friday of shielding Mubarak from prosecution, and of giving him time to cover his tracks and hide bank accounts and assets. The sentiment at the protest was more directly and widely critical of the military, once seen as the protector of Egypt’s revolution, than it had ever been.
“This is a direct response to the protests,” says Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, political science professor at the American University in Cairo, of the detainment order. “There has been a sort of ultimatum. Unless the president was interrogated by Friday, there would be another escalation of protests.”
An audio recording broadcast Sunday on Saudi television station Al Arabiya, in which Mubarak denied having been involved in corruption or abusing his position for personal gain, only increased the popular anger. It was the first time Egyptians had heard from their former president since his ouster on Feb. 11.
'May God bring us swift justice'
But as they heard the news Wednesday morning, many Egyptians smiled broadly. “I’m so happy – we’re all so happy,” says Abdullah, a student at Ain Shems University in Cairo. Yet after 30 years under Mubarak, many said it was hard to believe he was detained and his sons in prison. “Mubarak behind bars? I can’t even imagine it,” says Abdullah. He said he would find the image difficult to process until he saw a photo as proof.
“May God speed the investigation and bring us swift justice,” says Fatima, a Cairo street vendor who grinned and congratulated her customers on the news as she sold them soft drinks. Many expressed the view that Mubarak’s reported sickness was only a ploy to escape questioning.
Some on Cairo’s streets particularly reveled in the news of the detainment of Mubarak’s son Gamal, who was widely unpopular.
Seen as his father’s choice of successor, he had held a top post in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). He had directed Egypt’s economic liberalization and privatization project, which many Egyptians saw as only benefiting the rich and leaving behind the large segment of Egypt’s population that struggles to get by. Many Egyptians believe he abused his position to profit handsomely on the back of the public.
A victory for secular groups – not Muslim Brotherhood
The Mubarak sons join several top regime figures already in detention while investigations unfold. The much-hated former head of the NDP, Safwat el-Sherif, was detained Monday.
According to Professor Sayyid, the detentions of top figures represent a victory for the secular groups that had organized renewed protests to press the issue. While the Muslim Brotherhood had announced it would take part in last Friday’s protest, it had not supported a similar protest the week before that laid the ground for the huge gathering.
“This is also a response to the pressure of secular groups of young people,” he says. “This shows a new relation of power in the country, with the secular groups deciding what should be done and the Muslim Brothers are left out.”
Next battlefield: elections
With one of their main demands met, some Egyptians may now turn their focus to the next battlefield: parliamentary and presidential elections slated for September and November.
Political parties, heavily repressed under Mubarak’s rule, will have to scramble to match the organizational capacity of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has grass-roots support. Though dozens of new parties have sprung up since Mubarak was toppled, political organization has not yet become a priority for many protesters.
At Friday’s protest, Amira Said nearly screamed out chants calling on the military to bring Mubarak to justice. When asked about her political affiliation, the protester said she had none. “I don’t know yet,” she said. “I haven’t taken the time to study all the new parties.”