CAIRO: Five years after being ousted by a mass uprising, Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak is in a military hospital suite and his clan has been nearly rehabilitated under an even more repressive regime.
Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011 after 18 days of street protests against the police abuses and corruption that marred the Arab world’s largest country during 30 years of Mubarak rule.
But five years on, human rights groups are once again denouncing deaths in police stations, arbitrary arrests and the mysterious disappearances of opponents of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime.
The groups say that Sisi, who as then army chief ousted freely elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, has installed a regime which is more repressive than Mubarak’s, crushing all opposition.
“The present regime continues to follow the line of Mubarak, but is more brutal,” said human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, who like many other rights activists has been banned from travelling abroad.
On January 25, 2011, millions of Egyptians had taken to the streets, making central Cairo’s Tahrir Square the epicenter of an uprising that mobilized protesters using social media networks.
The military eventually asked Mubarak, himself a former general, to step aside and installed a military junta in its place.
The military council organized the country’s first democratic presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012.
Blistering police crackdown
Both were won by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, which for decades had been Egypt’s biggest opposition movement.
Just 12 months later Sisi overthrew Morsi after millions of people protested against his single year of divisive rule.
Morsi’s removal led to a blistering police crackdown overseen by Sisi that left hundreds of Morsi supporters dead in street clashes and thousands jailed.
Hundreds more, including Morsi himself, have been sentenced to death or given lengthy jail terms after speedy mass trials denounced by the United Nations as “unprecedented” in modern history.
The relentless crackdown had also targeted even those secular and leftist youth leaders who led the anti-Mubarak rising.
Egypt, which now has a dilapidated economy, has also been rocked by attacks on the security forces by the local affiliate of the jihadist Islamic State group.
Mubarak, 87, has spent the past five years in a suite at a Cairo military hospital, apart from his courtroom appearances on a stretcher, often sporting sunglasses.
In 2012, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of hundreds of protesters during the previous year’s revolt, but that judgment was later overturned by the country’s top court and a retrial was ordered.
The retrial saw murder charges against the veteran strongman dropped.
The prosecution appealed against that ruling, and the top court overturned it again. Mubarak’s case is once again before the courts amid regular adjournments.
Sons now free
In May last year, Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal were sentenced to three years in jail in a separate case after being found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds.
In October, a court ordered the sons’ release taking into account time spent in jail since their detention months after the 2011 uprising.
Alaa, a wealthy businessman, and Gamal, who was once seen as Mubarak’s successor, now lead a low-profile but comfortable family life.
Several former Mubarak aides were also tried on corruption charges but got either acquitted or sentenced to short prison terms.
Egyptian media outlets, which never fail to praise Sisi, have also contributed when it comes to publicly rehabilitating leaders of the former regime.
And most lawmakers in the new parliament elected in late 2015 are members of Mubarak’s now dissolved National Democratic Party.
They firmly back Sisi in a parliament formed in the absence of any real opposition.
Analysts say that with Morsi’s removal in 2013 and the election of Sisi as president a year later, the army has sealed an incongruous democratic loophole in a country long ruled by strongmen emerging from its ranks.
“The Mubarak regime has been rehabilitated in an insidious way,” said Karim Bitar, a Middle East expert at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.
“Most of the detestable practices of the Mubarak era have reappeared and even been amplified.”