Retribution Mubarak's unthinkable end
Yesterday's appearance of Hosni Mubarak before a criminal court to face charges of murder and illegal profiteering kept millions glued to their television screens, Gamal Essam El-Din
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For the first time since his ouster as president on 11 February, Hosni Mubarak was flown from his hospital bed in Sharm El-Sheikh to a live televised trial in Cairo. He appeared on a stretcher in the same cage along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal, Habib El-Adli and six of El-Adli's associates
Until the last moment there were doubts that the once all-powerful president would appear. But at 10am yesterday, all doubts were finally dispelled. Hosni Mubarak, 83, was wheeled on a hospital bed into a cage in the specially set-up courtroom in the Police Academy that once bore his name on the Cairo Ring Road. Adding to the extraordinary moment, he was joined by his two sons, Alaa and Gamal.
Mubarak had been flown by army helicopter from the Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital where he has been under arrest since 12 April. His two sons have been detained since the same date in Tora Prison, south of Cairo. They arrived at the Police Academy in armoured vehicles. Thousands of policemen, civil and military, had been mobilised on Tuesday night to create a security cordon around the Police Academy.
When the presiding judge asked "Is the first defendant Mohamed Hosni Mubarak here?", the ousted president raised his hand and replied: "Yes. I am here, Afandim [your excellency]." Asked about the charges levelled against him Mubarak replied: "I deny them all." His sons repeated the same words.
After more than an hour of deliberations, Judge Ahmed Rifaat adjourned the case until 15 August. He ordered that Mubarak be held at the army's International Medical Centre on the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road. Rifaat approved defence lawyers' requests that they receive a copy of all interrogation sessions with Mubarak and his sons.
Despite repeated claims by his lawyer, Farid El-Deeb, that the former president was too ill to attend his trial, Mubarak looked in good health. Many questioned whether it was really necessary for him to lie down during the session. Mubarak's two sons remained standing. Each was carrying a copy of the Quran, a gesture viewed by some as a cynical attempt to win public sympathy.
Yesterday's court session was divided into three parts. Following the appearance of all the defendants in court at 10am, Rifaat began by reviewing the case against Mubarak's former interior minister Habib El-Adli and six senior security officers. They, like Mubarak and his sons, face accusations of conspiring to kill protesters. The deliberations lasted 75 minutes, during which El-Adli, who has already been found guilty on corruption and other charges, looked tense. Unlike Mubarak and his sons, who were dressed in white prison suits because they have yet to be convicted of any crime, El-Adli wore the blue prison suit of the convict.
The judge then adjourned for 20 minutes. At 11.35 the court reconvened.
Rifaat first gave the floor to prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman, responsible for interrogating Mubarak and preparing the list of charges levelled against him and his sons. The charges Suleiman directed against Mubarak include: conspiring with Habib El-Adli to kill protesters; receiving bribes, along with his sons, of five villas estimated to be worth LE39 million from business associate Hussein Salem in return for facilitating the purchase of land in south Sinai at far below market value, and conspiring with former minister of petroleum Sameh Fahmi to help Salem monopolise the export of natural gas to Israel in a deal that cost the state treasury an estimated $714 million.
Lawyers for the families of citizens killed by security forces during the revolution submitted their own list of requests to the court, including the summoning of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), chief of military staff Sami Anan and former vice president and chief of General Intelligence Omar Suleiman. Both Tantawi and Anan have been quoted as saying they were ordered to open fire on protesters but refused. There were also requests that former prime ministers Ahmed Nazif and Atef Ebeid be summoned to explain their role in the Israeli gas deal.
El-Deeb argued against his client's case being joined to that of El-Adli. Mubarak's lawyer went on to request that six former governors of South Sinai be summoned to give testimony about how land in Sharm El-Sheikh was sold to businessman Hussein Salem.
Salem is currently in Spain, awaiting a decision from the Spanish authorities on Egypt's request he be extradited.
The court then adjourned for 90 minutes, after which the presiding judge announced that the first case, involving El-Adli and the six security officers, would be resumed immediately, while Mubarak's trial was scheduled to reopen on 15 August.
A majority of commentators agree that Mubarak's appearance in court marks a turning point in Egypt's recent history.
It came as a result, said Al-Ahram analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah, "of long pressure from sit-ins in Tahrir Square and repeated demonstrations" and showed that "the SCAF is serious about moving Egypt smoothly towards democratic rule."
Human rights activist Nasser Amin argued that "the public trial of Mubarak opens a new chapter in the political history of Egypt" and "is a giant step in the Arab world towards instituting the rule of law".
The trial, says Amin, will have a lasting legacy. "It sends a message to future presidents of Egypt that they will never again be above the law."
Members of the youth movements that kick-started the 25 January Revolution also welcomed the trial.
Worries were expressed that if the trial dragged on too long it would impact negatively on political and economic stability.
Two days before the trial opened, Interior Minister Mansour Eissawi visited the Police Academy courtroom, announcing that Mubarak had been notified of his summons to appear. A day later Eissawi was quoted as saying: "We do not want to have tensions in the street because Mubarak didn't attend his trial. We have no interest in keeping him in Sharm El-Sheikh."
An independent fact-finding mission concluded that more than 850 protesters were killed during the revolution and that Mubarak was ultimately responsible. A guilty verdict could carry a death sentence.