Landis: "Full Circle" Parallels Between Mubarak Release, Syria Strategy Shift
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Cairo throughout the week after a court ruled Saturday evening to dismiss charges against ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak over the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising in Egypt.
The Associated Press calls the ruling another setback for activists who led the revolution nearly four years ago, reinforcing the idea that Mubarak's military-led autocratic state remains in place, now led by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The former military chief led the uprising against elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year.
Mubarak was also acquitted of corruption charges that he faced along with his sons Alaa and Gamal — his one-time heir apparent — over the statute of limitations in the case running out. The case involves their purchase from Salem of luxury villas in a Red Sea resort at a vastly discounted price, something that the prosecution had said amounted to bribery. The two sons face a separate trial on charges of insider trading. All the rulings can be appealed. It was not immediately clear whether Mubarak would now walk free since he is serving a three-year jail term for separate corruption charges he was convicted of in May. He has been in detention since April 2011, but it is unclear if the past 3 1/2 years will be treated as time served.
"This was very symbolic for everybody," says Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "In many ways it says the Arab Spring and all the hopes that were tended on it - democracy, constitutionalism, rule of law, dignity for the citizens of the Middle East - are once again stalled, and here we have a military dictatorship."
Also this week, representatives from more than 60 countries and interest groups met in Brussels to counter self-proclaimed Islamic State militants who have made significant territorial gains in Iraq and Syria in the past year. Landis says countering terrorist activities is now the top United States goal in the region, and the move away from helping build democratic institutions is a "dark moment" for many Middle Easterners.
"We just saw, most recently, both Iran and Assad sending their warplanes to bomb sites where we had just bombed, like in Raqqa, Syria. Within an hour of our bombing the ISIS capital, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad bombed it too," Landis says. "Iran did the same thing in Iraq and many people said, 'How can you be allowing these people to be bombing? Aren't they your strategic partners?' And we're denying that they're our strategic partners, but they're, in a sense, being very coy and driving this policy forward to show that in fact they are our strategic partners in the war against ISIS."
Three years ago President Obama called on Assad to step down, but Landis says today the president is protecting him by destroying his enemies in Syria and not going to war against him.
"The U.S. sees Assad as a bulwark against the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria," Landis says. "And that's why they won't destroy him, because who will take Damascus if it falls? So we have in a sense come full circle just like the Mubarak incident in Cairo. The ironies are plenty."
KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.