Mubarak may face execution as protests and violence continue to engulf region

Egypt’s former president may face execution over allegations he ordered the killing of demonstrators opposed to his rule, while Syrian security officials have reportedly violently suppressed thousands of anti-government protesters as political unrest continues to rock the Middle East and North Africa.

Syria, along with a number of nations including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have all reportedly witnessed surges in anti-government activism in recent months as political unrest has spread through the region leading to demonstrations against their respective rulers – all to varying degrees of success.

The BBC reported yesterday that security forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have continued to crack down on protests during a “month of unrest”. Amidst this political landscape, news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) revealed that Egypt’s currently detained former leader Hosni Mubarak could stand trial and face the death penalty over suspicions that he ordered the murder of activists opposed to his rule.

The AFP cited reports in local state-owned media that prominent figures in Cairo’s Appeals Court had claimed that the execution of the former president could be possible if he was convicted of having a role in murdering protestors who stood against his rule at mass demonstrations across the country before Mubarak eventually stood down in February as activism intensified.

According to the report, the head of the country’s Appeals Court said that if testimony by Habib al-Adly, a interior minister serving under Mubarak, implicating the disposed president in approving the shooting of some protestors proved to be true, he too could face a custodial sentence or execution.

Media reports suggest that up to 800 people are thought to have been killed during a wave of protests before Mubarak was finally toppled. However, further protests in the country has thought to have been averted by authorities following the detention of Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal over alleged links to violent suppression, the AFP reported.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities have also been charged with violently suppressing it citizens, with the BBC reporting have been some of the largest-scale protests yet seen in the country calling for an end to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the news agency, tear gas and batons were used by authorities to repel protestors that reportedly had gathered in their thousands in Damascus to continue to demand al-Assad’s resignation despite his attempts to make “some concessions” to his rule.

State media reportedly confirmed that small demonstrations had taken place across the country without the intervention of security officials, the BBC added.

In its own coverage of the protests, Al Jazeera reported that some witnesses in Damascus claimed that some 15 buses full of secret police had been drafted in to try and quell protests, while plain clothes-armed men were reported to have surrounded protestors gathered outside the Salam mosque in the city’s Barzeh district.

The news agency added that protests carried out against the government elsewhere in the country such as Baniyas, Latakia, Baida and Homs appeared to have gone ahead peacefully.

Reuters reported that unrest was also continuing elsewhere in the region this week with hundreds of Shias protesting around the Saudi Arabian region of Qatif to demand the release of prisoners they claim to have been held without a trial on political and religious grounds.


Maldivian President joins calls for Mubarak to step down

President Mohamed Nasheed has joined the first wave of world leaders calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and “heed the will of the Egyptian people,” after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets and demanded the end of autocratic rule.

“Egypt is a mature country. It contains many reasonable people who are capable of ruling reasonably,” President Nasheed said, during an interview with the BBC yesterday.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has warned Mubarak that his actions now would determine his legacy.

“Mr Hosni Mubarak: I want to make a very sincere recommendation, a very candid warning… All of us will die and will be questioned over what we left behind,” Erdogan said, in a party speech broadcast in Arabic and reported by Reuters Africa.

“As Muslims, where we all go is a two cubic metre hole,” he said. “Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change.”

Mubarak has meanwhile offered to step down at the next election, during an appearance on Egypt’s state-run television network.

“In the few months remaining in my current term I will work towards ensuring a peaceful transition of power,” Mubarak said. “I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.”

However, demonstrators have called for Mubarak’s immediate departure, given the extraordinary expression of public anger taking place in the country.

Egypt’s opposition leader, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed El Baradei, yesterday noted that demonstrators were increasingly calling for the President to not just resign but be put on trial, and urged him to leave at once “if he wants to save his skin”.

In another development, after initial prevarication US President Barack Obama appears to have withdrawn support for the Egyptian leader, praising the protesters and calling for an immediate transition of power following a 30 minute conversation with Mubarak.

The US has been a key ally of the embattled Egyptian President, pumping US2$billion of aid in the country annually since 1979. Much of this – US$1.3 billion in 2010 – is military aid, mostly Pentagon castoffs, making Egypt the second largest such recipient of US military assistance after Israel. This has seen a good deal of public anger aimed at the US within Egypt.

Mubarak’s other public allies – Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – have been noticeably silent since the protests began.

Remarkably, the Egyptian military appears to have turned on Mubarak, stating publicly on state media that it would not obey orders to use force against the protesters.

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has published a leaked confidential cable between Washington and the US Ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, sent on December 30, 2008, outlining conversations with an unnamed “activist” concerning “regime change” in Egypt prior to the elections in September 2011.

“According to [the source], the opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections. [The source] asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be written down,” the communication revealed.

“[The source] asserted that Mubarak derives his legitimacy from US support, and therefore charged the US with ‘being responsible’ for Mubarak’s ‘crimes’,” wrote Scobey.

“He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in a ‘fantasy world’, and not recognising that Mubarak – ‘the head of the snake’ – must step aside to enable democracy to take root.”

Scobey, however, did not appear optimistic about the source’s chances of success, describing its goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections as “highly unrealistic”.

“Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. [The source’s] wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists,” Scobey wrote.

In his interview with the BBC, President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed called on Western powers “not to fear a democratic Egypt”, because this, he claimed, “is the best guarantor of fundamental liberties and human rights.”

“Suppressing people with extremist views through repressive means only makes them stronger,” he said.

“Fundamental rights and freedoms are human aspirations… things that all of us want. These forces are playing out on the streets of the Middle East today.”

The Maldivian government has asked Maldivians in Egypt to leave the country as protests escalate. Haveeru reported that 107 Maldivian nationals were leaving the country today on an Indian flight va Mumbai, arranged by the government.