For most of those who hit Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 demanding democracy and a freer society, President Hosni Mubarak was a symbol of repression. After his ouster, the dictator was tried for corruption and causing the death of hundreds of protesters. Still, his release last week, after six years of detention at Cairo’s military hospital, was received by Egyptians as just a routine development . There were no major protests against his release, nor were there any rallies in support — an indication of what Egypt’s state and society have become six years after the Arab Spring. The release was long expected. Most of his associates and family members, who also faced serious charges, were already released. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, accused of embezzlement of public funds, were released in October 2015. Corruption charges against Mr. Mubarak were overturned in January 2015. Earlier this month, he was acquitted by Egypt’s highest appeals court of conspiring to kill protesters, paving the way for his release.
It may appear ironic that Mr. Mubarak, who ruled the country with an iron fist for almost 30 years and was toppled by public protests in which hundreds were killed, is now a free man, while Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected President, is in prison. But this irony also symbolises Egypt’s complex contemporary politics. Though the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi claims the legacy of the 2011 revolution, it took a lenient view of Mubarak-era crimes while cracking down on Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. It is difficult to gauge the political mood in Egypt. Despite large-scale concentration of power in the hands of the military, the Sisi regime doesn’t face any existential threats. For ordinary Egyptians, who went through the instability and chaos of the post-Mubarak months and the threats of Islamisation and economic miseries during the Muslim Brotherhood rule, General Sisi at least provided stability and order. The belief is that compared to other countries that were hit by popular protests in 2011 such as Libya, Yemen and Syria, Egypt is doing better, thanks to the army’s intervention. Tunisia is the only country that internally transformed itself into a democracy after protests. Gen. Sisi projects himself as a guarantor of order and enjoys support among the minorities and secular sections. But the question is if the status quo is sustainable. Order was restored at a brutal cost. Hundreds were killed when security personnel forcibly removed Islamist protesters from Cairo. There is no substantive political opposition. Personal freedoms are being curbed again, while media groups and journalists are targeted. In effect, what hundreds of protesters at Tahrir Square risked their lives for was never achieved. Gen. Sisi has taken the country back to square one.