Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Of dictators and dye

Once billed the trial of the century, Hosni Mubarak’s court appearances have descended into farce, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The first hearing of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s trial in August 2011 saw millions of Egyptians glued to their television screens. Two years on and Mubarak’s retrial could not present a greater contrast. Against a backdrop of ongoing political instability and a teetering economy it has excited little beyond despondency among the public.

According to Mubarak’s lawyer Farid Al-Deeb, “it is not economic conditions and political insecurity that has led Egyptians to lose interest in following Mubarak’s retrial”. In a television interview on Saturday Al-Deeb claimed that “two years ago Mubarak’s trial was held amid a hostile campaign from the media and several international forces.” Today, added Al-Deeb, “I think most Egyptians have seen for themselves that the campaign was based on lies and fabrication.”

Mubarak, who faces graft charges as well as ordering police forces to kill pro-democracy protesters during the 18-day 25 January Revolution, appeared in optimistic mood, smiling and waving to the courtroom from inside his cage.

Mubarak’s demeanour was unthinkable during his first trial when a sullen and depressed looking ex-president was wheeled into the court room on a stretcher. He was, says political science professor Gamal Zahran, forced to come to the courtroom to face humiliation before the world. “He was the first Pharaoh to face public trial and what made it much worse for him and his family was that all the world could see it live on their television screens.”

Zahran believes “Mubarak’s smile underscores not only the fact he feels confident that he will be acquitted of charges but that when most Egyptians compare his rule to that of the Muslim Brotherhood the comparison will be in his favour.”

Mubarak’s appearance in court triggered a furious response from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)’s deputies and their Islamist allies on Sunday. Mohamed Al-Saghir, a member of the Development and Reconstruction Party — the political arm of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya which masterminded the assassination of late president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — complained that “Mubarak appeared in the courtroom with his hair dyed and straightened by a private coiffeur and his face made-up to hide wrinkles.”

“In 2011 Mubarak kept his eyes closed so that he would not have to see the victims of the revolution,” said Al-Saghir. “This time he arrived wearing dark designer glasses, smiling and waving as if he wanted to tell everyone his counter-revolution is moving ahead.”

Ahmed Fahmi, a leading figure of the FJP and chairman of the Shura Council, appeared obsessed with the watch Mubarak was wearing. “Mubarak’s watch is valued at LE2 million and was a present from Al-Ahram Press Establishment,” railed Fahmi. “I have the full details of the watch and other presents he received from Al-Ahram.”

That the focus has moved from Mubarak’s murderous legacy after three decades at the head of a notoriously corrupt and brutal police state to his hair dye and jewellery is a reflection of the grotesque distortions of political discourse in the country he has bequeathed. Yet according to Al-Deeb, it was perfectly natural for his client to “respond to several people chanting slogans in his favour by smiling and waving”.

“Mubarak looked in good health during the retrial this week not because he was allowed to hire someone to care for his hair and face but because he has been transferred to the five-star Maadi military hospital which is far better than the hospital of Tora prison.”

“My client suffers from problems in his heart, lungs, brain, intestines and legs. It is a matter of life and death for him to remain at Maadi and not to go back to the poor healthcare at Tora,” insisted Al-Deeb. “A number of convicts currently receive treatment at Maadi. It is not just Mubarak.”

“I think a majority of Egyptians recognise that the charge that Mubarak ordered police to kill protesters has no credibility. Recent bloody events in Port Said and in Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo show that hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters can be killed not under the presidency of my client but under Morsi’s rule,” said Al-Deeb.

Novelist Alaa Al-Aswani claimed in a televised interview on Saturday that “under Morsi’s rule police forces have become more brutal and the killing of peaceful protesters is now routine.”

“Morsi has announced many times that he fully supports the repressive practices of police forces and is ready to do much more to quell protests.”

“Morsi’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim is just as bad as Mubarak’s Habib Al-Adli,” says Zahran. “While Al-Adli was tasked with safeguarding Mubarak’s rule against revolts Ibrahim has been told to keep Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group in power at any cost.”

Prosecutors say the fact-finding committee formed by Morsi last year to investigate crimes committed during the 18-day revolution was able to gather a great deal of evidence against Mubarak. The committee’s report, however, has become a political hot potato for the president, not least because it implicates the army in human rights abuses, including the torture, forced disappearance and murder of protesters. Morsi appeared keen to kick the entire report out of bounds when, in the wake of leaks of some of its contents, he announced a series of military promotions and said he would allow no one to impugn the integrity of the military. 

Leaks from the 800-page report detail the way military checkpoints were used to detain citizens who were never seen again, how soldiers delivered unidentified bodies to coroners and charge that “security forces had official approval to fire live rounds at protesters in Suez.”

After an urgent meeting with Morsi on 11 April, Minister Al-Sisi, who was chief of Military Intelligence during the 18-day revolution, denied all the accusations.

Al-Deeb insists the report of the fact-finding committee will make no difference to his client’s case. “It was prepared by Omar Marwan who was also a member of an earlier fact-finding committee whose report was used by prosecutors against Mubarak but failed to incriminate him.”

Mubarak’s retrial was adjourned moments after it opened at Cairo’s Police Academy on Saturday when presiding judge Mustafa Abdallah recused himself. Abdallah earlier acquitted many of Mubarak’s former associates of the charge of conspiring to kill protesters during the so-called Battle of the Camel case.

The case was referred back to Cairo’s Appeals Court which has so far been unable to find a judge willing to preside over the trial.

The retrial of Mubarak, his two sons, a business associate, Al-Adli and six aides was ordered in January after the Court of Cassation accepted an appeal against an earlier life sentence, citing procedural irregularities.

Mubarak was examined by a medical committee on Tuesday to assess whether he can be transferred from Maadi military hospital back to Tora prison hospital. The doctors will report back to the prosecution-general.

On Monday Cairo Appeals Court ordered the release of Mubarak without bail after Al-Deeb submitted a memorandum pointing out that his client had spent two years in custody, the maximum allowed under Article 143 of the criminal procedures law in the absence of a final conviction. Mubarak, however, was kept in custody pending investigation into a separate corruption case.


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