Hundreds of police surrounded the court set up at the PoliceAcademy on Cairo's outskirts. Protesters gathered outside holdingup images of those killed in the uprising and calling for Mubarak'sexecution. "Dear God, take Mubarak and those with him!" theychanted. If convicted, the 84-year-old former president could face anythingfrom a few years in jail to the death penalty. |
Few Egyptians expect he will go to the gallows, even if some thinkthat is what he deserves. Protesters have often hung his effigyfrom lamp posts since he fell on February 22, 2011. Mubarak's two sons, standing trial with their father, alongside hisformer interior minister and six other senior officers, arrived atthe court, state media reported. It is the first time an Arab leader ousted by his people has beenplaced before a regular court.
Mubarak's trial had Arabs glued tothe television last year and sent a message to other autocratsbattling rebellions what fate might await them. "Mubarak's trial has the potential to set a meaningful regionalprecedent for accountability for human rights abuses and forupholding international fair trial standards," Human Rights Watchwrote in a report before the session. But the ruling could not come at a more sensitive time for Egypt,right in the middle of a fraught presidential election that pits afigure from the Muslim Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, againstthe deposed leader's last prime minister. The verdict could herald more political turmoil, although JudgeAhmed Refaat, who has already had three months to consider hisdecision, could postpone it if he needs more time.
"It cannot be that, after 15 months of the revolution and thecrimes committed, Mubarak is not punished. This would destroy anytrust in the judiciary," said engineer Saad Ali, 35. An acquittal or a light sentence could send protesters back on thestreets. Many are already angry that the hated police force, blamedfor about 850 deaths in the uprising, and other pillars ofMubarak's rule have survived his downfall intact.
WHEELED INTO COURT A conviction would prompt demands for Mubarak to be transferred toprison from the hospital where he has been held in custody. Theother defendants, who include his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, hisformer interior minister Habib al-Adli and six senior securityofficials, have been held in a Cairo jail. Egyptians saw Mubarak as they had never seen him before when histrial opened on August 3, about six months after he was ousted. Theman once at the centre of ceremonial state events was wheeled intothe court on a hospital gurney. He has appeared on a stretcher for each session since then,suffering from undefined ailments, and flown in by helicopter froma military hospital on the edge of the sprawling capital.
His sons have stayed close to him in the cage for defendants usedin all Egyptian criminal courts. The trial has unfolded in aspecial courtroom in a police academy on the edge of Cairo. He has rarely spoken except to declare his presence and deny thecharges, including accusations that he was behind brutal policetactics used to quell mass protests that erupted on January 25,2011. He was driven from office 18 days later.
Outside the court, Mubarak's supporters and his opponents haveoften clashed, hurling stones and abuse at each other. Those divisions are now playing out in the presidential race. In aJune 16 and 17 run-off, Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-air force chief likeMubarak, will face the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi. Shafiq has called his former boss a role model. His Islamist rivalsays that if he becomes president he will ensure enough evidence isproduced to keep Mubarak behind bars for life.
"It is not possible to release Mubarak," Mursi told Reuters onThursday. "I promise the martyrs (of the uprising) will retrievetheir rights in full, God willing." (Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair;Editing by Alistair Lyon and Mark Heinrich).
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