The former ruler, who has pleaded not guilty, is standing trial alongside his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, who joined him today. Former Interior Minister Habib el-Adli also faces charges. Mubarak’s trial opened after pressure from demonstrators, who have demanded his swift and public prosecution. He returned to the court today for a second time on a hospital bed.
Refaat ruled today that the cases of Mubarak and Adli be joined. He also ordered that the prosecution summon several witnesses during the court session on Sept. 5 and that the live broadcast of the trial be suspended until a verdict is reached.
Until Mubarak first appeared in court on Aug. 3, many Egyptians were skeptical they would see the man who ruled them for three decades appear in the caged enclosure. Many activists said they had expected the military council, which took interim authority when Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, to spare him that fate. The opening session was the first sighting by Egyptians of their former president since he was forced to quit.
“The trial has won the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces some popularity,” Mustapha K. al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said in a telephone interview. “It provided proof that the military council is not giving Mubarak special treatment and that it is determined that he be subjected to the law.”
Mubarak arrived by helicopter today and was ferried in an ambulance to the building in Cairo where the trial is being held. Wearing a blue top, he answered the judge who called out his name with “I’m here.” For much of the time in the dock he had his eyes closed and hands over his chest. His sons stood beside him.
Mubarak, a key ally of the U.S. and Israel while in power, was also charged with abusing his office to acquire property for himself and his sons and selling natural gas to Israel at below- market prices. His sons were charged with corruption.
The trial comes as authorities struggle to repair the economy and grapple with demands for a transition to democracy. It may send ripples across the region, where opposition movements are fighting to emulate the success of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and to get rid of autocratic rulers.
Shown live on state television, the trial is taking place in a makeshift courtroom in a police academy that once bore Mubarak’s name. The former ruler had previously been in custody in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
“I want to see Mubarak in court with my own eyes. It’s our right,” said Mohammed Gomaa, 42, who said his brother was killed in the uprising. What’s more important, he said, is to make sure that the case against the former president is solid. “We want to know that this is a serious trial.”
At least 846 people were killed during the revolt, sparked by poor living conditions, political repression and complaints about corruption and police abuses.
The turmoil that accompanied the uprising hurt Egypt’s economy, which shrank an annual 4.2 percent in the quarter that ended in March as tourists stayed away and factory output was cut by strikes. This has opened rifts among Egyptians who united to drive Mubarak out.
The ruling military council says it will hand over power after parliamentary elections, expected later this year, and a subsequent presidential vote. The timing of elections and the process of writing a new constitution have pitted some secular groups against Islamist ones, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many young activists have also found themselves at odds with the military council, which they accuse of being too slow in allowing post-Mubarak reforms. Some now fear the trial may be used to block further changes.
“This is the military council of Mubarak, they use the same system of suppression,” said Ragy Muhammad, 25, one of the protesters who staged a sit-in in central Cairo last month to demand justice for those killed in the uprising. “They may say: ‘You saw him in a cage. What more do you want?’ and try to let the people forget about other demands,” such as an end to military trials for civilians, he said.
Mubarak’s lawyer, Farid elDib, has asked that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the former president’s longtime defense minister who now heads the military council, testify in the case.
It is one of the few occasions in which an Arab nation has tried a former leader for past crimes. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia a month before Mubarak’s ouster, has been convicted of multiple offenses in absentia. Saddam Hussein, who was executed in 2006, was tried in a court set up by occupying U.S. forces.
Setting an Example
While Mubarak’s case may embolden protesters in other Arab countries, his courtroom spectacle may prompt some Arab leaders to further cling on to power, some analysts say.
Syrian demonstrators took to the streets in mid-March, and President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces have since killed more than 2,400 people. The conflict in Libya between Muammar al-Qaddafi and rebels against his rule began a month earlier, and Bahrain’s rulers ordered a crackdown in which more than 30 people were killed and hundreds detained.
“Mubarak’s trial will lead some Arab rulers to exert their utmost efforts to avoid the same fate,” al-Sayyid said. “They will resort to more force and suppression no matter how high the price their people are paying.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Barden at email@example.com.