Iron cage awaits Mubarak for trial in Cairo police academy

Wed, Aug 3, 2011, 01:00

The trial of Egypt’s ousted president will have repercussions across the Arab world, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

EGYPTIANS ARE waiting to see if ousted president Hosni Mubarak appearsat his trial today to face charges of graft and involvement in the killing of 846 protesters during the uprising. Cairo’s Criminal Court will be in session at the police academy, guarded by 8,000 troops.

Mr Mubarak (83) is set to be flown to the venue in an army helicopter from the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh where he has been residing in the VIP wing since April. According to Egyptian media, he will be confined in the dock in a 30m iron cage. A bed will be made available if needed.

Although his doctors have claimed he is not well enough to be moved or stand trial, Egyptian minister for health Amr Helmy said, “Mubarak’s . . . condition allows his transfer to Cairo.” Medical staff will be on hand for his care.

Standing trial alongside the former president will be his sons, Alaa and Gamal, former interior minister Habib al-Adly, and six senior policemen. They will be driven in a convoy of armoured vehicles from Tora prison to the court.

The opening session is likely to be brief and procedural. Mr Mubarak’s defence lawyers are expected to demand an adjournment so they can prepare their case. However, trial judge Ahmad Refaat has said the court will remain in session and hear the case until concluded. At least 600 security-vetted lawyers, relatives of victims, and journalists, will attend the trial which will be broadcast live on Egyptian state television.

Mr Mubarak and the other defendants are charged with involvement in the killing of 846 protesters, and graft, specifically over the sale of five villas worth $40 million, and a deal for the purchase by Israel of natural gas at below market prices.

The trial is certain to attract far more regional and international attention than the ongoing trial in absentia of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidin ben Ali and 23 relatives.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, was once the political, economic and cultural hub of the Arab world.

Mr Mubarak ruled with an iron fist for 30 years. Muslim fundamentalists, leftists and persecuted civil society critics are certain to be both shocked and buoyed by his appearance in a cage similar to the cages into which they were crammed. Egyptian citizens will also be deeply moved by the former president’s humiliation – whether he enters the dock today or not.

The trial has been a central demand of millions of democracy activists who have taken part in the uprising, suspended during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. While the generals who assumed presidential powers following Mr Mubarak’s removal were reluctant to prosecute their former commander-in-chief, they were compelled to do so by repeated “million man” marches in the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square, Alexandria, Suez, and elsewhere.

Many activists are likely to complain, however, that the trial is taking place in a civil court while protesters detained by the security forces and army are still being given summary trials by military courts.

The trial will have major repercussions across the Arab world and in countries governed by authoritarian regimes unaccountable to the public.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government can be expected to increase pressure on protesters who seek his removal from power. But the regime could also feel compelled to pursue reforms to calm the situation. Arab leaders not facing mass revolt might be encouraged to meet opposition demands for democracy, accountability and transparency. If Mr Mubarak attends today’s proceedings, his image in the cage could remain in the mind’s eye of dictators everywhere for a long time.