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In Egypt, a Volatile Reaction to Mubarak’s Sentence, Associates’ Acquittals

June 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
On Saturday, longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for his role in not stopping the killing of protesters during the Arab Spring. Also, his associates and sons were found not guilty. Gwen Ifill speaks with McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy Youssef about the intense demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: And for more, I spoke a short time ago with Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo.

Nancy, thanks again for joining us.

Last time we spoke, it was right after the elections and everybody was still jubilant. Now, tonight, we’re seeing more turmoil again. What happened?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: Well, the Mubarak verdict, in which he and his minister of interior were found guilty and given a life sentence and their subordinates let off, really sort of set off the revolutionaries.

I think that and the fact that his former prime minister was in the runoff election really set off people who wanted a revolution and feel that it’s in trouble right now, that rather than sort of seeing revolutionary changes, that there’s more of the same, that the regime is sort of giving them reforms, but not really, that the system is still intact.

GWEN IFILL: Why was a life sentence for Mubarak considered to be a weak verdict? Was it really about the verdict or was it about the election?

NANCY YOUSSEF: It was both, really.

I think it was very funny to watch people, because they heard the life sentence announced first for Mubarak and then for his minister of interior and people started setting off fireworks and crying and celebrating. And then they started hearing one after another of the six co-defendants get absolutely nothing.

And these were people who were head of the central security forces, people who actually went out in the streets and carried out the orders. And there was a feeling that — essentially that they were being played really, that the regime was trying to sort of hold Mubarak and the minister of interior responsible, the old regime, if you will, but allow people to come back in, that people like the head of the central security forces could eventually come back into power, could move back into the system, and that there was an effort to sort of give them the appearance of justice without really holding everybody accountable.

For people here, it was inconceivable that Mubarak could be found guilty and given a life sentence and those who actually carried out the orders, some of them in the streets themselves, could be allowed to walk.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any concern at all that Ahmed Shafiq, who is considered to be — or at least was a former Mubarak lieutenant, that so much of the fire seems aimed — the political fire seems aimed at him — is there concern that he might pardon Mubarak or in some other way invalidate the verdict?

NANCY YOUSSEF: There absolutely is. There’s a concern that he will bring back some of the old regime, that he will pardon Mubarak, that he will let him free, that he will drop some of the charges against his sons, that there’s an effort by the — that — the old remnants of the regime to come back into power and really undo, if you will, some of the efforts to bring about reforms in the country.

And it’s something that his competitor in the runoff election, Mohammed Morsi, is really exploiting and going to people and saying that this election, this runoff election is a choice between more of the same and real reform. But it’s something that Shafiq can’t shake off and is in fact trying to.

Over the weekend, he said that the Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsi by extension were remnants of the regime, when in fact Egyptians see him as a remnant of the regime. So, there’s a real fear. Remember that when Mubarak’s verdict was handed down, he was given a life sentence, and then the judge proceeded to say that actually the prosecution had never proven anything.

And people really saw this as laying the groundwork for a successful appeal. If the judge is saying that there’s no grounds for convicting him, why wouldn’t Mubarak get an appeal? And the thinking goes, once Shafiq is in power, he will have the legal basis to say that Mubarak — there was insufficient evidence against Mubarak and therefore he should be let free.

GWEN IFILL: And speaking of legal basis, today, we hear that three of the runner-up candidates are taking issue with the outcome of the election. Does that mean that there is going to be an investigation into how these votes were cast?

NANCY YOUSSEF: You would think so. But the problem is the election commission has the final say in everything here. There is nobody to override them.

Remember a few weeks ago, when they declared that 10 candidates were disqualified. So they could easily say that the election was fair or not fair. And there’s nobody to really question it. The losing candidates are trying to say that because there was a law passed before the election that said that nobody from the regime could run for office for 10 years, that Shafiq could be disqualified.

That law went to the constitutional court. And the court hasn’t ruled on it. And so they’re arguing that the law was legal and therefore Shafiq can’t be a presidential candidate.

GWEN IFILL: And, tomorrow, we expect even more demonstrations in the square.

NANCY YOUSSEF: I think so. I mean, there’s a real effort to kind of re-galvanize the revolutionary spirit through Tahrir Square.

The problem is, it’s one thing, they march in the square, but they still can’t get around one message. You have got all these factions within the sort of revolutionary groups fighting over what should be the message and who should be the leader. And so I think the spirit is there in Tahrir Square, but in terms of tangible solutions for those who want to see a real revolution here, I don’t think it can happen through Tahrir Square.

And I think you’re seeing a lot of people really reconciling with that. And so there’s sort of ebbs and flows in terms of who we see out there and the kind of enthusiasm that’s there. But there’s a real effort to kind of jump-start it, if you will, by getting the crowds back out there. It’s the only way they know how to sort of bring about change.

GWEN IFILL: Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo tonight, thank you so much.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Sure.