All of Egypt was taken aback by Prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud ordering that the detention of deposed President Hosni Mubarak should be extended for a further 15 days. Not only did Abdel-Meguid’s order come after conflicting reports on the health condition of the deposed president, who is currently being held in Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital, but also after widespread rumours that he might not be taken to Cairo to face more extensive questioning or to be placed at the hospital attached to Tora prison, where his two sons and most of his ex-regime’s henchmen are held in custody.
An official statement emphasised that Mubarak was questioned on two serious charges: ordering the killing of pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, and helping business tycoon Hussein Salem monopolise the sale of Egypt’s natural gas to Israel, at very cheap prices against a hefty commission. Mubarak was questioned in the presence of his lawyer, Farid El-Deeb. A team of doctors are to examine Mubarak on 26 April to see whether he can be moved to Tora prison in south Cairo or to the prison hospital.
The questioning of Mubarak came just a few days after several of his defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) senior officials and business tycoons came under investigation on charges of involvement in mass murder, corruption and profiteering.
Questioned as a witness, Mubarak’s 13-day vice-president and former chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman said on 18 April that Mubarak had never issued orders to former interior minister Habib El-Adly to open fire on protesters. “On the contrary,” said Suleiman, “Mubarak was very clear in instructing El-Adly and police forces to exercise restraint, and to seek the help of the army in peacefully containing the protesters,” said Suleiman. The 13-day vice-president rather placed all the blame on the former interior minister for the killing of protesters on the 28 January (the Friday of Rage). “Though El-Adly was instructed by Mubarak to exercise restraint and seek the help of the army, El-Adly opted to issue orders for security forces to withdraw and open fire on protesters to protect themselves,” Suleiman said.
However, the former intelligence chief added, “I has strong suspicions that many of the NDP’s senior officials were implicated in masterminding the attacks on protesters at Tahrir Square on the 2nd of February (popularly known as the Battle of the Camel) but I do not know whether Mubarak had a hand in this battle or not.”
In his own questioning, Mubarak's son and heir apparent Gamal vehemently denied that he had ever given orders to El-Adly to open fire on protesters.” In Gamal’s words “I have never been a state official, and never had the authority to give orders to anybody.”
Mubarak himself told investigators during a very brief questioning on 13 April that he never issued orders for El-Adly to open fire on protesters. “El-Adly told me that a lot of Muslim Brotherhood members had infiltrated the Tahrir Square demonstrations, and we had fears that the revolution of the youth would be stolen by radical Islamists, but we never went to the extent of giving orders to kill the protesters.”
All these testimonies were given the lie, however, by a report issued by a fact-finding committee on the bloody events of the 28 January and the Battle of the Camel on February 2nd. The report, released in a press conference on 19 April, pointed accusing fingers at Mubarak himself and his ex-interior minister Habib El-Adly.
In the words of the report, El-Adly could not issue orders for opening fire on protesters without the clear consent of Mubarak in his capacity as the President of the Republic. The report deplored that “neither the president nor the interior minister had ordered any investigation into these bloody incidents, nor did they intervene to bring a stop to the attacks or to hold accountable those who fired live rounds.” This, concluded the report, “means that Mubarak and his interior minister should be held accountable either by actual involvement or by complicity.”
Concerning the “Battle of the Camel”, the report shied away from pointing direct accusing fingers at Mubarak. It stressed, however, that several senior officials of the defunct NDP participated in masterminding and sponsoring these attacks. Fathi Sorour, the former parliamentary speaker, also held in detention, told prosecutors on 20 April that he had never received orders by phone from Mubarak to send thugs and hooligans from south Cairo’s densely-populated El-Sayeda Zeinb district to attack protesters by use of knives, daggers, cudgels and molotov cocktails. Testimony provided by other former NDP MPs – especially the deputy of Al-Haram (the Pyramids) district, Abdel-Nasser El-Gabry, told investigators that top-ranking NDP officials, including Mubarak and his son Gamal, masterminded the attacks on protesters on 2nd February by camel and horse-back hooligans wielding swords and cudgles.
Mubarak was also questioned over his part in the signing of a natural gas export deal with Israel at prices below international markets, which amounted to a waste of public funds. On 21 April, prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid ordered that former minister of petroleum Sameh Fahmi and five ex-ministry officials be remanded into custody for 15 days pending investigation into the sale of natural gas to Israel at below market prices. On 20 April, Abdel-Meguid ordered police authorities to ask Interpol to arrest businessman Hussein Salem who is charged with giving Mubarak a hefty commission in return for being given a monopoly of the sale of natural gas to Israel.
The prosecutor-general’s office unveiled that the selling of cheap Egyptian natural gas to Israel at prices far below international market rates lost the state treasury some $714 million. Israel gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt, under an agreement signed in December, 2005. The fugitive Hussein Salem and other Israeli, American and Tai investors own, East Mediterranean Gas (EMG), which has a monopoly of the supply of Egyptian natural gas to Israel via a pipeline between Al-Arish, the capital of north Sinai, and the port city of Ashkelon in Israel.
It is widely rumoured that the ex-minister of petroleum, Sameh Fahmi, was formerly a consultant to Hussein Salem and he was rewarded in 1999 by being appointed a minister of petroleum to facilitate the selling of gas to Israel. Fahmi was helped several times by NDP officials to dodge answering questions leveled by opposition MPs during the 2005-2010 People’s Assembly on the sale of gas to Israel.
As for Salem, he has been branded by the press as Mubarak’s “front man” and “the king of Sharm El-Sheikh”. Salem told an Egyptian newspaper few years ago that he "knew Mubarak in the late 1960s and that since then they have held a strong friendship.” Several Western and local press reports have revealed evidence that Mubarak and Salem made a vast fortune from commissions gained from transporting American military assistance shipments to Egypt after signing peace with Israel in 1979. In 1994, Salem built the Mubarak family three luxurious villas at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh where Mubarak opted to stay after being deposed from power on 11 February.
Several judicial experts believe that Mubarak may be executed or jailed for life if convicted of the charges against him. Zakaria Shalash, a legal expert, said Mubarak could face execution if found guilty of ordering the killing of protesters and peddling influence to embezzle public funds.