Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 November 2011
Issue No. 1071
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Mubarak's trial in legal limbo

Cairo's Appeal Court meets today to consider replacing the judicial panel presiding over the trial of the ousted president, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Cairo's Appeal Court will meet today to review the request to replace the judicial panel presiding over the trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak submitted by lawyers representing the families of protesters killed during the 18-day 25 January Revolution. Judicial sources say the Appeal Court will either postpone a decision on the lawyers' demand or else declare that presiding judge Ahmed Rifaat be replaced.

Mubarak's trial, initially due to resume on 30 October, was postponed by Rifaat until 28 December. The delay came after a 10-minute session in which Rifaat adjourned court proceedings until a decision is reached on the panel presiding over the case.

Lawyers representing the families of protesters killed by the police have accused Rifaat of bias in favour of the former president and of a conflict of interest given that Rifaat's brother, Essam, was a stalwart of Mubarak's regime.

Mubarak, his sons and former interior minister Habib El-Adli were in court to hear Rifaat's decision. He ordered that they remain in custody.

Mubarak, El-Adli and six police officers are charged with ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters. The former president also faces charges, alongside his sons Alaa and Gamal and business associate Hussein Salem, of illegal profiteering on a massive scale.

The trial opened on 3 August. On 23 September the court listened to the testimony of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's minister of defence for decades, and now chairman of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt's de facto ruler. The ousted president's long-time confidante, whose testimony was shrouded in secrecy, later revealed that he had never heard Mubarak issue orders that security forces open fire on protesters.

The court was due to hear the testimony of Chief of Military Staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan on 24 September. But following the petition to replace the judges in the case Rifaat delayed the hearing to 30 October.

As well as accusing Rifaat of pro-Mubarak bias, lawyers representing the families of murdered protesters say they were prevented from attending Tantawi's testimony and questioning the witness. They have charged that Rifaat had served the Mubarak presidency as a legal adviser and that his neutrality is further compromised by the fact that his brother Essam, a former editor of Al-Ahram's economic weekly Al-Ahram Al-Iqtisadi, was a leading member of the now disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP), sitting on its influential Policies Committee led by Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and heir apparent.

On 29 October it was also claimed that one of the families' lawyers was in possession of documents detailing earlier rulings issued by Rifaat in favour of Hussein Salem.

Families' lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud said on Saturday that, "it is better to have a slow and fair trial of Mubarak rather than one that is rushed and unfair." He advised Rifaat to resign on the grounds that it would be more dignified to do so than be pushed by the Appeal Court.

Cairo's Appeal Court said on 22 October it needed time to review Rifaat's record and links to the presidency. Then, in a surprise move, the three judge panel appointed to hear the lawyers' petition itself resigned. Following their departure speculation was rife over the panel's own conflict of interests.

If the Appeal Court decides today to uphold the lawyers' objections to Rifaat the trial will start from scratch with a new presiding judge. If the objections are rejected court proceedings will resume on 28 December.

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