Contrary to rife speculation, deposed president Hosni Mubarak showed up behind bars in the opening session of his trial along with other defendants accused of involvement in the killing of protesters during the January 25 Revolution. It was an unprecedented scene, one that was received and also interpreted differently amongst Egyptians.
The 83-year-old Mubarak was lying on a stretcher in the cage throughout the proceedings. Next to him stood both of his sons, Alaa and Gamal, while his former interior minister, Habib El-Adly, and six of his assistants were sitting on benches, also behind bars.
Some believe the session is a clear indication that justice is actually being served, while others are convinced that the whole trial is a hoax. On the other hand, several people were moved upon seeing the former commander-in-chief “humiliated” as he was helplessly confined, whereas another segment felt he deserves a harsh fate.
Tradesmen Tarek Aboul-Naga and Ayman El-Masry were sitting at a spit-and-sawdust cafe downtown shortly after the opening session was aired on state TV. Each had an opposite perspective to the other, which triggered an energetic yet friendly conversation.
Aboul-Naga, 30, is one of those who got emotionally affected upon seeing Mubarak in the cage. He told Ahram Online: “I wanted him to stand trial for the widespread corruption in the country, but after I saw him like that [in the opening session] I sympathised with him.
“He’s too old and sick for this, and during his 30-year rule he must’ve done good things; he wasn’t all bad. I believe the perfect end for him would be having his financial assets seized and getting extradited to another country, but trying him like that is unacceptable.”
Conversely, El-Masry said: “The trial is fair and his crimes should definitely result in the death penalty. All my uncles died of cancer, a disease that has become very common in Egypt during his tenure because of contaminated food, not to mention instigating the murder of protesters during the revolution.”
It is widely believed that Mubarak’s former agriculture minister, Youssef Wali, had imported cancer-causing pesticides, which some claim prompted the number of cancer patients in Egypt to soar in past years.
“In Upper Egypt, if a 90-year-old killed a man, retribution would be attained in no time. Mubarak is 83 and has killed thousands, so he must be executed,” 41-year-old El-Masry added.
Mohamed Ali Shaheen, an owner of a car spare parts shop, thinks highly of Mubarak’s trial, saying it should herald the end of the consecutive strikes and sit-ins that followed the 18-day revolt, and also fierce criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
He told Ahram Online: “The session proved that Mubarak’s trial is for real and no one is above the law in Egypt.” “This also quashes all doubts raised over the intentions and credibility of the military council and [de-facto leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi. Sit-ins and demonstrations should now disappear,” the 60-year-old stated.
The military council has been repeatedly accused of giving special treatment to Mubarak and other former regime oligarchs who are currently detained pending trials and investigations.
Mahmoud Kasdi, a US-based Egyptian web developer, thought that seeing Mubarak locked up was a far-fetched possibility. Now after it happened, he believes a sentence for the toppled president could actually be on the cards, even though he still does not have complete confidence in the authorities. Speaking to Ahram Online, he said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw all of them in that cage!
“Mubarak seemed to be in a good condition; he didn’t look depressed or to be suffering weight loss as recent medical reports said. I took no pity on him. Yes, he is an old man but he must stand trial for his multiple crimes.
“He could well be sentenced to prison, but of course no one would be sure of the kind of treatment he would receive. I mean he could spend his time in a five-star hotel instead of being incarcerated in jail, and no one would know,” the 28-year-old elaborated.
Although he also agrees that a culprit must be sanctioned, Mohamed Nihad, a banker, has different sentiments. “When one commits a crime he has to be tried, but it doesn’t have to be in a humiliating manner,” the 28-year-old told Ahram Online. “An allowance should have been made for him because of his deteriorating health, his attendance was not that important after all.
“I think Habib El-Adly is the prime suspect in that case; he has always been brutal during his time in the cabinet, but Mubarak has never been like that,” he added.
Ali Abdel Hamid, an owner of a makeshift food trolley, said that Mubarak is responsible for the chronic poverty that has long befallen Egypt. In the same breath, nonetheless, he stressed that he “does not want to see him humiliated” either.
He also deplored Mubarak’s trial, describing it as a “prank that aims to appease public anger”.
“Mubarak was the reason why many people suffered from hunger, but he made me and everyone else live in safety for 30 years, unlike other countries,” he told Ahram Online.
“I hope he dies now. That would be a better end for him instead of suffering in this trial, which I think is not for real. It will be adjourned repeatedly for months and no one will eventually be punished.
“[Erstwhile heir apparent] Gamal [Mubarak], [steel tycoon] Ahmed Ezz and Tantawi are the real criminals.” On his accusations against the latter, 30-year-old Abdel Hamid explained: “Tantawi has been in the army for too long, he must be corrupt. Many terrible things happened under his nose.”