Last Updated: Sat Sep 17, 2011 12:08 pm (KSA) 09:08 am (GMT)

Sonia Farid / Letter from Cairo: The phantom of the courtroom

The trial of Hosni Mubarak and some of his henchmen can be seen as a dramatic opera, one full of intrigue and mystery. (File photo)
The trial of Hosni Mubarak and some of his henchmen can be seen as a dramatic opera, one full of intrigue and mystery. (File photo)

In the Paris Opera House, the enormous chandelier crashes to the ground, the lead singer lets out frog croaks in the middle of the performance, the tenor disappears during the performance – only to be found strangled by a Punjab lasso that threatens the lives of everyone who ventures into the appalling labyrinthine corridors unless they keep their hands at the level of their eyes – and the mirror in the new soprano’s dressing room takes her to an underground lake that she sails across to reach the eerie liar of the disfigured proprietor of the opera’s netherworld.

Add to that anonymous notes demanding money and determining the casting of performances, box number five that is always reserved for an invisible spectator, and the mystery of the soprano’s mysterious tutor. Those occurrences might be mysterious and are undoubtedly alarming, but at some point you get to know there is some “phantom” behind them, and whether he is man or ghost you are left with the comfort of putting your hand on the cause and knowing where to head if you want to eliminate it.

In the Cairo courtroom, the testimony of prosecution witnesses comes in favor of the defendants, a CD containing recordings of telephone conversations from the Interior Ministry’s control room is destroyed by the prosecutor’s main witness, the minister of interior turns out to have issued no orders to fire at peaceful protestors, riot police were armed with tear gas and water cannons only at the time of the protests, live ammunition was meant only to protect the Interior Ministry from the angry mob, police officers got clear instructions to treat the protestors as their “brothers,” the blatant contradiction between the testimony of the witnesses during interrogations and that of the very same witnesses in court is treated as non-existent.

No phantoms have so far claimed responsibility for that paranormal twist of events that suddenly made angels of demons and that made Egyptians who previously wondered whether it would be the capital punishment or life imprisonment prepare themselves for the possibility of an acquittal.

The glorious inauguration of that new type of judiciary procedure, which I believe should be called the “court of the absurd,” was made all the more festive by the stellar appearance outside the court of Mubarak supporters, who revealed that none other than Iran, Qatar, and Hezbollah started the revolution and none other than the very same countries killed the protestors in cold blood.

This, I have no doubt, would make a decisive testimony, one that is bound to determine the progress of the case, as is the announcement made the following moment that the deposed president is, in fact, a descendant of Prophet Mohamed. Witnesses should also include that Egyptian singer who insists Coca Cola and Vodafone slogans are proof of American and Israeli involvement in the revolution, and perhaps also that Cairo-based Syrian actress who comes on TV every other day to jump down the throat of anybody who accuses Bashar al-Assad of massacring his people, and one cannot forget that mosque preacher who yelled at worshippers that ousting the ruler is against Islam and stressed that every police bullet was shot in self-defense.

It will definitely do the case a great deal of good to try to track down all the crooks who used Photoshop to fabricate videos of security cars running protestors over and snipers shooting at unarmed civilians and to present to the court the criminal records of the so-called “martyrs,” who it turns out are nothing but thugs who ruthlessly attacked police stations and opened the gates of prisons.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and that foul smell has become too sickening to be tolerated. The stink started flirting with our nostrils when Mubarak’s son waved the victory sign from behind bars after the judge declared a ban on broadcasting the trial, and when the former interior minister was greeted like a returning warrior by police officers who chaperoned him in and out of the dock and was always caught on camera with this confident he-who-laughs-last smile that does not become a senior official sentenced to prison and facing a death sentence if proven guilty, and when it was obvious to everyone that the ex-president who could also be hanged still dyes his hair black and is apparently allowed pre-court meetings with his makeup artists, and when his other son had the nerve to pull a piety act and appear in court holding a copy of the Quran.

The last whiff of stench blew much stronger as we saw scapegoats offered at bar on a silver platter and as the murderous officials of the corrupt regime seemed to be as wrongly accused as the wolf thought to have devoured Joseph.

Instead of speculating about how the trial will end and what kind of sentences will be passed, we are left wondering who moves the threads of what now looks like a puppet show and who is presiding over that under-court Hades in which all intrigues to abort the revolution are woven. More than once, we have been victims of sometimes naive optimism. The revolution was a miracle, and so was the first trial in the Arab world of a president at the hands of the people who deposed him.

This blinded us to the unfortunate fact that a regime like that could not be uprooted by the removal of its heads and that thousands of members of that regime would fight till the last breath to, if not to keep, at least to maintain the rules with which it played in order to protect their interests and/or keep their skeletons resting in the closet.

Mubarak and his interior minister are individuals. The trial of the first and the few years in jail handed down to the second do not by default apply to any of the cartels they used to lead and which are still at large and ready to strike all kinds of deals to save themselves through saving their bosses.

But who are “they”? And what kind of influence allows them to change testimony, destroy evidence, and wave a comforting thumbs-up at the defendants so they look that cool and unshaken? In whose interest is it to keep as much as possible of pre-revolution Egypt and fool the credulous public with an illusion of democracy while still remaining the hero of all times?

First of all, it must be an entity or a group or whatever you would like to call it that was part of the regime and whose existence is so interwoven with its practices that it will be gravely threatened if the entire establishment is leveled to the ground, AND it must wield the amount of power required to reverse several of the gains of the revolution or at least refrain from granting revolutionaries their demands, AND it must now be in a position that officially allows it to chart the course of post-revolution Egypt as it sees fit, AND it must at some point to have gained the trust of the regime’s enemies to be able to effect all those changes after the regime was presumably ousted.

Storming into that underworld is far from being an easy task, and lassos might be waiting at every corner, but keeping our hands at the level of our eyes is a skill we seem to have learned well throughout the past few months; courage is one thing Egyptians surely do not lack.

Whoever or whatever our “phantom” is, until finding the way to his lair our voices will echo with the song that will herald the end to its monstrous existence:

Track down this murderer, he must be found!
Hunt out this animal, who runs to ground!

(Sonia Farid, of Al Arabiya, teaches English Literature at Cairo University. Write her at: sonia.farid@mbc.net)

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