On Saturday, at the final session of a court case that started over two years ago, former president Hosni Mubarak is hoping to be fully acquitted of charges of ordering or turning a blind eye to the killing of protestors during the 2011 revolution.
Mubarak, 86, has already been in prison for close to two years while being tried on the charges. He was initially convicted in 2012 and given 25 years in prison, but a successful appeal in 2013 led to a retrial, which concludes on Saturday.
He has also been convicted of illicit use of state funds to renovate and redecorate private houses, and is currently serving a sentence in connection with those charges.
At the final retrial session on Saturday, Mubarak is hoping for an acquittal that associates say the former president would view as a recognition of his history as a man who took power in Egypt at a crucial moment following the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat.
Mubarak, who was promoted to vice president in 1975 by Sadat, took over following the latter’s assassination. In October 1981, less than two weeks after Sadat’s death, he was given overwhelming support in a public referendum which made him the fourth president of Egypt, and the fourth successive military man to hold the top job.
The former leader sees himself as a man who managed to pick up the pieces after Sadat’s demise and keep Egypt stable and running for three decades, until he was forced to step down on 11 February 2011 following 18 days of nation-wide demonstrations.
A verdict either way could still be appealed.
On 2 June 2012, days before his first elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi was sworn in office, Mubarak went into severe depression after being given a life sentence. This was the first verdict in the case that started in August 2011, months after the resignation that he had thought would allow him and his family a safe retirement inside or outside Egypt, as they wished.
Mubarak’s depression went from bad to worse when he was taken from a well-secured wing of a military hospital, where he had been kept since his arrest on the charges of culpability for police killing of protesters, and taken to prison.
The charges themselves relate to the deaths of hundreds of street demonstrators at the hands of the police force during the first three days of the 2011 revolution, especially on the third day, commonly known as the Friday of Rage.
Also on trial alongside Mubarak are his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, his former interior minister, Habib El-Adly, and six of El-Adly’s aides.
Mubarak was later taken back to hospital after an apparent deterioration in his health, although the television cameras that broadcast the court sessions did not capture any particular frailty or affliction, given his age.
At an August session of the extended trial before the criminal court, Mubarak made a statement before the court – “a presidential speech rather than an appeal for a not guilty verdict,” as critics argued – in which he not only denied having ordered or having been informed of the killing of peaceful demonstrators, but also stoutly defended his 30-year presidency.
The former president stopped short only of discrediting the 25 January Revolution and blaming it all on the Muslim Brotherhood, who followed him to power only to be removed a year later, as other defendants in the same case, especially his long-serving minister of interior Habib El-Adly, had done.
On Saturday, Mubarak stands a better chance of being acquitted “fully” of the charges than El-Adly or some of the six aides to the minister of interior, according to a source at the office of Mubarak’s attorney, Farid El-Dib.
Also standing a good chance of acquittal are Mubarak’s sons, who were claimed to have been party to the decision-making process in the last few days of Mubarak’s rule: Alaa Mubarak, a businessman in his late 50s, and Gamal Mubarak, a businessman and aspiring politician who was being groomed to succeed his father.
“We don’t know what the judge has in mind; this judge has been very tolerant in allowing everyone (among the defendants) to speak at length, but the verdict is another story. But what we know is that there is no compelling evidence or testimony that could prove Mubarak to be guilty of ordering or of tolerating the killing of demonstrators in January 2011,” the source at the office of Mubarak’s attorney said. He added that the same goes for the two younger Mubaraks who, like their father, are also facing other charges of financial corruption.
“I am talking about the case of killing the demonstrators; to judge on paper the three Mubaraks should be acquitted tomorrow. This is our expectation; we are hopeful, and they are hopeful too of course because they follow the details of the case thoroughly,” the same source added.
Mubarak, he also said, has been recently hopeful that “public opinion now knows who was behind the agitation of the demonstrations in January 2011 and who was behind the killing of demonstrators.”
The implicit accusation that this lawyer and large segments of the privately owned and state-run media have been making is that the Muslim Brotherhood are responsible for escalating the protests of 25 January and of having killed demonstrators with an eye to agitate the masses and to paint the interior ministry into a corner.
No evidence has been offered at any point for this narrative but Mubarak’s lawyers have used the narrative that some “unknown entity had targeted demonstrators to start widespread riots.” El-Dib, Mubarak’s attorney, has openly qualified the 25 January Revolution, mentioned in the preamble of the constitution, as “a conspiracy” – something that received no reaction from the court.
Sources close to Mubarak attest that the former strongman has been in good spirits in recent weeks, as he personally believes there is a widespread resentment of the 25 January Revolution and its leaders.
One source said that Mubarak has told visitors that he is glad to see that people realised that they had been misled and that he finds solace when he receives letters and messages suggesting that there is a realisation today that his rule had offered Egypt stability, security and decently run services, as opposed to the way things have progressed after he was removed from office.
Morsi’s ouster last year was a day of joy for Mubarak, the same source says. She adds that Mubarak was particularly joyful over the election of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Mubarak’s last head of military intelligence, in June and that he told interlocutors that he is reassured that things are back on the right track.
El-Sisi on Mubarak
It is hard to decide exactly how President El-Sisi perceives the trial of Mubarak tomorrow. Different assessments are offered by different associates of the president – including some who spoke to him during his days as head of military intelligence, right after the ouster of Mubarak, or during his time as defence minister under Morsi and up until he was elected president in June.
The leading account argues three things: El-Sisi is not trying to influence the verdict that will be issued Saturday; El-Sisi’s strong sense of affiliation to the armed forces is making him hopeful that Mubarak will not be found guilty – “not because he wants Mubarak to be acquitted but because he cares so much for the reputation of the armed forces,” as one close associate of the president said; El-Sisi blames Mubarak for his mismanagement during the last few years of his rule and, according to the same associate, “like other members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken strong exception to the grooming of Gamal Mubarak” to become the next president.
One thing is certain, said an informed official: the reports offered to El-Sisi about the possible reaction to a not guilty verdict do not predict a strong wave of protest against the ruling. And in any case, under the current, restrictive demonstrations law it might be too complicated to assemble large masses to protest an acquittal.
On paper, Mubarak is expected to at least get his 25-year prison sentence for having failed to stop the killing of demonstrators reduced. If not fully acquitted, Mubarak could get anything from seven to 15 years in prison, according to the lawyer at his attorney’s office.
In this case, the time he has already spent in jail would be deducted from the sentence. And a few months down the road, he could be getting a medical release for the obvious reasons of old age and frail health.
“What we expect is that he will get a not guilty sentence for lack of evidence for the killing of demonstrators and that he will be found guilty in part for non-deliberate misuse of state money to renovate private houses; we suspect he will get three to five years for the latter charge and he will soon be allowed to get out – in a few months, after he has finished his prison term,” the lawyer said.
Alaa and Gamal are also likely to be acquitted on the charges of killing the protestors and to be convicted of the illicit financial appropriations. Each of them, according to the same legal source, could get a seven to 15 year term.
The maximum penalty for the killing of demonstrators is a death sentence and the maximum penalty for the charges of illicit financial appropriations is a life term in prison.
Mubarak could in theory, as El-Dib is said to be hoping for, be acquitted of both charges. El-Dib’s objective is to secure an acquittal and with it to reclaim Mubarak’s good name for posterity.
If Mubarak was to be found not guilty of the charges, he would go some way towards being rehabilitated. He would secure the status of a retired military officer – he was head of air force during the 1973 October War -- and a president who had willingly chosen to step down to accommodate public anger and to save the country from confrontation.
In other words, he could keep all the benefits of a retired officer and he could be free to live in his Heliopolis mansion, where his wife currently resides in solitude, or in his house in Sharm El-Sheikh from where he was first summoned for interrogation in May 2011.