The military gets a boost from Mubarak’s trial

By Hani Sabra

Egypt's ruling supreme military council is the immediate beneficiary of former president Hosni Mubarak's trial, the first of its kind in the Arab world. Unlike former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Mubarak is not being tried in a special court and he was not brought before judicial authorities following a foreign invasion.

Until Mubarak was wheeled into the court on Aug. 3, many Egyptians questioned the council's willingness to bring their former commander to justice. But at a time when confidence in Egypt's revolutionary youth movement is waning, the council regained public prestige and burnished its commitment to the revolution by not intervening on Mubarak's behalf. The trial, which is unlikely to meet international standards of justice, will continue to be a headline grabbing sideshow and will have little significant impact on the tense political atmosphere ahead of the November parliamentary elections.

Critics of the military council doubted that the council would allow the trial to go ahead. But on Aug. 3, Mubarak, his sons, the former interior minister, and several close associates faced charges of corruption and killing peaceful protestors. The decision to proceed indicates that the members of the military council are willing to let Mubarak face a politicized judicial process in order to save themselves. By doing so, the council also appears to be honoring its commitment to the revolution, something the liberal activist community doubted.

As a result, the military council has been strengthened in comparison to the youth activists. The Egyptian public was very supportive of the revolutionary activists in the spring, but has since become lukewarm. While many activists are rejoicing at the trial (it is a direct result of their protests) their short-term leverage with the military council is limited. If the activists opt to continue with street protests after this success, their popularity will likely further weaken as the wider public starts to believe they are overstepping. The military council would then have an easier time managing the transition and ensuring that it maintains its privileged position-which are its primary goals.

The lack of stability in Egypt could also help the military, which is perceived as the only guarantor of stability. The rise of Salafists, sectarian tension, the weak economy, and the country's uncertain political direction are all contributing to a sense of uncertainty, that along with the waning public support of the liberal revolutionaries, will also likely make it easier for the court to sentence Mubarak to serve out a term in a hospital bed rather than execute him.

Egypt's Islamist parties will also benefit from the trial. Islamists, who also suffered under the Mubarak regime, are keeping their eye on the elections, while the secular liberal activists remain focused on things like the trial and the reform of the security services. 

Hani Sabra is an analyst with Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice.