Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began his first full day of a life sentence today, as youth groups who helped push him from power rallied against a verdict they said showed his regime remained intact.
The 84-year-old Mubarak and his longtime security chief Habib el-Adli were convicted yesterday of failing to stop the death of some of the roughly 850 protesters killed during the January 2011 uprising. Six senior police officials were acquitted -- a finding that brought thousands into the streets to protest a verdict they said could pave the way for Mubarak’s acquittal on appeal.
Youth groups, whose members flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, vowed an open protest until authorities agree to scrap the final round of presidential elections and set up a temporary ruling council. The demands injected fresh uncertainty into Egypt’s already rocky transition to democracy just two weeks ahead of the vote, which pits the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last premier. Egyptian expatriates began to cast their votes today.
“Tensions are running high and the people are preparing for a new revolutionary wave against the old regime and its symbols who are still there, like Shafik,” said Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the April 6 youth group movement that participated in the uprising.
The crowd that had built up to around 10,000 overnight thinned out early today. The health ministry said a total of 79 people had been wounded in the protests in Cairo and elsewhere, the majority of them in Tahrir, the official Middle East News Agency reported.
Billed as the “trial of the century” in the Egyptian media, Mubarak’s case was described by some of the families of those killed in the uprising as a test of the new Egypt -- a chance for justice, they argued, that was rare under the deposed president. Months of hearings and postponements eroded confidence that this could be achieved.
Mubarak is the only Arab leader to appear in court before his people as a result of the so-called Arab Spring uprising.
Both presidential candidates reacted to the ruling. Mursi vowed that he would convene an investigative panel to bring to justice all who participated in killing the protesters. Shafik, in a statement by his campaign, said the ruling showed that “no one in Egypt was above accountability.” The trial served as a lesson to any presidential successor, he said.
Shafik’s advancement to the runoffs has enraged many youth protesters and Islamists who see him as a close Mubarak ally seeking to reinvent his former boss’s regime -- claims he has repeatedly denied.
The timing of the ruling, between the first round of the elections held on May 23 and 24 and the runoff on June 16 and 17, helped stoke the skepticism and frustration with which the ruling was met, Hani Sabra, a Middle East analyst with the Eurasia Group in New York, said by phone.
“It’s very difficult, if you look at the timing of the events, to imagine that this is largely a legal proceeding that’s divorced from political reality,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement that the officers’ acquittal “sends a message to them and to others to continue their aggression on citizens.”
“This verdict means that only the head of the regime and of the interior ministry have fallen. The rest of the regime remains,” said the Brotherhood, whose political arm controls almost 50 percent of the seats in parliament’s lower house.
In court, Judge Ahmed Refaat prefaced the verdict by comments that offered a clear indication that Mubarak, who had faced a possible death sentence, would not be cleared.
Under Mubarak, Egypt fell behind “the most backward countries in the Third World,” the judge said. “God wiped out the night, and allowed daylight to prevail.”
Last year’s uprising ended “30 years of bleak, bleak darkness,” Refaat said, later arguing that prosecutors had failed to provide sufficient evidence of culpability in the killings.
Egypt’s EGX 30 stock index fell 2.4 percent today, to the lowest in almost two months. The unrest stemming from the upcoming election has added to concerns about an economy that has struggled to recover since Mubarak’s ouster in February last year. Egypt has spent about 60 percent of its international reserves in the period, as the central bank sought to shore up the Egyptian pound. Political bickering has also delayed a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
“We believe that such unrest will weigh heavily on investment sentiment and increase selling pressure,” Mona Mansour, economist at investment bank CI Capital, wrote in a research note today.
The acquittal of Mubarak and his two sons, businessman Alaa and one-time heir apparent Gamal, of corruption charges helped spark a fist-fight in the court yesterday as lawyers for the victims’ families chanted that the judiciary must be “cleansed.” Mubarak’s sons remain imprisoned on new charges of market manipulation that were announced last week.
While thousands descended on Tahrir, clashes broke out in front of the police academy where the trial was being held. The facility, which once bore Mubarak’s name, was ringed by riot police and armored personnel carriers as part of a sweeping security plan that included a 5,000-strong security detail.
Mubarak was taken from the court by helicopter to Cairo’s notorious Tora prison. Egyptian media reported that the former president, who had been held at a military hospital throughout the trial, suffered a “health crisis” and refused to leave the helicopter for over two hours. The independent Al Shorouk newspaper said he fainted several times and had to be revived, while the state-run Al-Ahram reported he was eventually taken to the prison hospital’s intensive care unit to stabilize him. He was also denied visits by his family.
“It’s so unfair for the six others, the heads of evil, to be acquitted,” Azeeza Mohamed, who said her son was killed during the revolt, said by phone. “It is God who will avenge our children in the afterlife, and I pray that he takes revenge for them in this world.”