Egyptians protest over Mubarak sentences


EGYPTIANS WHO initially cheered the sentencing of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to life imprisonment by a Cairo court returned to the country’s squares and streets for a second day yesterday to protest the verdict and the acquittal of his sons and aides in other cases.

When on Saturday chief judge Ahmad Rifaat pronounced judgment in the historic trial, the first of a deposed Arab leader, a great cheer went up from the throng outside the police academy where the special court sat. But euphoria turned to anger when the judge explained that Mr Mubarak and hated interior minister Habib al-Adly had been found guilty not of instigating the massacre of 846 protesters during last year’s uprising but of “failing to prevent” the murders.

Mr Adly’s six aides, believed to have been involved in the crackdown, were acquitted while Mr Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, and tycoon Hussein Salem were acquitted of corruption on the ground that specific accusations over villas in the resort town of Sharm el-Shaikh in exchange for a natural gas deal with Israel were 10 years old, exceeding the statute of limitations.

Amnesty International said the ruling “failed to deliver full justice” or to end a culture of impunity for former officials who committed human rights abuses.

Egypt’s prosecutor promptly began the process of appealing the verdicts while human rights activist Hossam Bahgat said evidence had been withheld from the prosecution, which had received no state support in assembling the case, and predicted that a retrial could be expected, with different results. But this is not certain.

“This [was] a political ruling of the first order,” stated Amir Salem, a human rights lawyer representing the victims’ families. “The judge’s legal justification . . . practically guarantees the acquittal on appeal of Mubarak and el-Adly before the Court of Cassation,” Mr Salem told Cairo daily al-Ahram.

He pointed out that the judge said there had been “no evidence of the crime” and “nothing to show who killed or was involved in the killing of the victims” permitting the Court of Cassation (supreme court), which must sit within 40-60 days, to free the defendants. “Rifaat handed over the justification for their acquittal on a silver plate.”

Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square seethed with tens of thousands of protesters. Demonstrators packed Arbaeen Square in Suez and staged a mass rally in front of the main mosque in Alexandria. Fresh demonstrations have been called for tomorrow.

Many protesters expressed dissatisfaction with the two candidates standing in the June 16th-17th run-off presidential election – Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhamman Morsi and Mr Mubarak’s final prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, a former airforce general and minister of aviation.

While Mr Morsi urged presidential candidates eliminated in the first round on May 23rd-24th to unite and oppose Mr Shafiq, he observed that the verdicts showed that “nobody in Egypt is . . . above punishment and accountability.”

Furious protesters tore down his campaign posters and thrashed a provincial campaign headquarters.

In a bid to mollify protesters, Mr Mubarak was not returned to the military hospital where he has resided since the trial began last August but flown to Tora Prison, where his sons and other ex-regime personalities are being held. Although acquitted of expired corruption charges, Mr Mubarak’s sons remain in prison, facing new allegations of insider trading preferred shortly before the verdicts were announced.