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Defense attorneys have already made it clear that they will slow the proceedings to a crawl. They want to call more than 1,000 witnesses, including Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, who is current head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Mubarak’s lawyers claim that Tantawi was in charge of security after January 28, which is when most of the deaths occurred.
That line of argumentation will probably fall on deaf ears with the Egyptian people. They endured 30 years of Mubarak’s brutality and corruption. Not only were Egyptians oppressed by the dictator politically, but the economic life of the country was stunted by his cronyism, handing the directorships of companies to his friends in the military, while denying economic opportunities to ordinary people by decreeing monopolies and steering government contracts away from rivals. Most Egyptians would agree that no fate that befalls Hosni Mubarak would be too horrible.
But after all that is said and the justice system has its way with him, exactly what is it that the Egyptian people will have won? Will they trade a somewhat secular dictator for the religious oppression guaranteed by the Islamists? One woman, upon seeing the hundreds of thousands of extremists demonstrating in Tahrir Square last week, said, “I think I will have to leave Egypt.” Despite the airy assurances of President Obama and other Western leaders in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Mubarak that Egypt was on the way to “democracy,” the facts on the ground are far murkier and, in fact, threaten the kind of scenario that was brushed aside by the US State Department as unrealistic just a few short months ago.
No one knows precisely how much support the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies might get in the upcoming elections. The estimate that the Salafists make up only 10-20% of the population seems low when contemplating the results of a Pew poll from April of this year. Some of the results from that survey are extremely disturbing. Pew found that 54% of Egyptians want to end the peace treaty with Israel. Another 62% support the imposition of Sharia law on the country. Also, 18% say they will support the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections, the second highest total for any party. A previous Pew poll from last December shows widespread support for traditional Islamic punishments such as lopping off hands for thievery and stoning for adultery.
That same poll revealed that almost half the country had a favorable opinion of Hamas. Indeed, since the SCAF took power, the flow of guns into Gaza has increased, as one of the first major acts of the new government was to open the border crossing of Rafah.
What these surveys appear to show is that support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist extremists is wider, deeper, and stronger than anyone assumed when Mubarak was kicked out of power last February. And while the trial of Hosni Mubarak may give a lot of satisfaction and act as an emotional catalyst for most Egyptians, it may also symbolically usher in a new, darker chapter in Egypt’s history — one that not only threatens to destroy any hope for real democracy, but also threatens Israel and Egypt’s neighbors with the worst kind of Islamic extremism and oppression.
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