x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mubarak in court: the day Egyptians thought they would never see

He arrived on a stretcher with a sheet pulled up to his chest. Then ex-president Hosni Mubarak was placed in a cage in an Egyptian courthouse, along with his sons and seven others.

A video image  from Egyptian State Television showing  Hosni Mubarak susing a microphone while lying on a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a Cairo courtroom.
A video image from Egyptian State Television showing Hosni Mubarak susing a microphone while lying on a hospital bed inside a cage of mesh and iron bars in a Cairo courtroom.

CAIRO // Hosni Mubarak heard a prosecutor read out the charges against him yesterday and, lying on a hospital trolley in the defendants' cage, said into a microphone: "I deny all these accusations completely."

The scene was historic and emotional for the people in the courtroom, the protesters outside and millions of other Egyptians - detractors and supporters alike - who never imagined that the country's former president would be on trial.

At the session's start, Mr Mubarak, a sheet pulled up to his chest, was wheeled into the cage. Though he was pale and his eyes were ringed with red, Mr Mubarak, 83, appeared aware of what was going on. He showed little emotion.

It was the first time Egyptians have seen him since February 10, when he gave a defiant TV address refusing to resign.

For many Egyptians, the trial of Mr Mubarak and nine others - including his two sons - is a chance at retribution for decades of oppressive rule; for others, Mr Mubarak was a symbol of stability.

After opening statements by lawyers, Judge Ahmed Refaat announced the trial would be adjourned until August 15. He also said that Mr Mubarak would remain in Cairo rather than return to hospital in Sharm el Sheikh where he has been since his removal.

For many Egyptians, the trial of some of the most vilified men in the country suggested that the January and February protests were not in vain.

"Seeing him in that cage made us all feel good," said Nahla Magdi, 49, a radio technician. "It was good evidence that we are moving towards freedom."

Mr Mubarak was charged with being an accomplice, along with his then-interior minister, in the "intentional and premeditated murder of peaceful protesters" and that he and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, received gifts from a prominent businessman in return for guaranteeing him a lowered price in a land deal with the state.

His sons and six others are all on trial with Mr Mubarak. They all pleaded innocent.

While the other defendants sat on wooden benches in the cage, Mr Mubarak's sons stood next to their father's bed, at one point with their arms crossed seemingly trying to block the camera's view of their father. They each carried a copy of the Quran and leaned over to talk to their father.

The spectacle, aired live on state television, was stunning for Egyptians. Activists across the Middle East watched, too, and predicted the trial would strengthen protest movements elsewhere.

After widespread scepticism that Egypt's military rulers would allow it, the scene went a long way to satisfy one of the key demands that has united protesters since February 11, when Mr Mubarak fell after an 18-day uprising.

"This is the dream of Egyptians, to see him like this, humiliated like he humiliated them for the last 30 years," said Ghada Ali, the mother of a 17-year-old girl in the city of Alexandria who was shot dead during the crackdown.

Egyptians' emotions were on display outside the Cairo police academy where the trial was held.

Mubarak supporters, relatives of slain protesters and other Mubarak opponents massed at the gates, scuffling sporadically. About 50 supporters pounded on the gate trying to get into the compound, chanting "We love you, Mubarak", until police charged with electrified batons and dispersed them.

With Mr Mubarak in court were his nine co-defendants. Besides his sons, the one-time heir apparent Gamal and the wealthy businessman Alaa, were his former interior minister, Habib El Adly, and six former high-level police officials.

Mr Mubarak will stay at a hospital within the police academy during the trial to ensure that he attends the sessions. Mr Mubarak has been living in Sharm el-Sheikh since he was toppled, and has been under arrest in a hospital there since April, reportedly suffering from heart problems. Doctors have said that he is growing increasingly depressed.

In April, Mr Mubarak was moved to a Sharm el-Sheikh hospital and put under arrest while his sons and other defendants were held in Cairo's Torah Prison.

Mr Mubarak, Mr El Adly, and the six police officers are charged in connection with the killings of 850 protesters. All eight could face the death penalty if convicted. The charge sheet said that Mr Mubarak "allowed [ El Adly] to use live ammunition" against protesters.

Separately, Mr Mubarak and his sons face charges of corruption. According to the prosecutors, they received five villas worth nearly US$7million (Dh25m) from the businessman, Hussein Salem, in return for using their influence to get him a lower price for state land to build a resort in Sharm el-Sheikh.

During the proceedings, the streets of Cairo were already abnormally quiet because of Ramadan. Many Cairo workers were seated around the television. Rami Mohamed Ibrahim watched the trial as his shoes were shined.

"Justice is for Mubarak to get the death penalty," he said. "This is the least we could accept. I trust the judicial system, not the regime."

bhope@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting by the Associated Press and Foreign Correspondent David Enders.