Initial scepticism that ousted president Hosni Mubarak would face trial for the killing of hundreds of protesters during Egypt’s peaceful revolution was dispelled when TV screens across the nation revealed a stunning public live footage of the former dictator in the dock, lying prone on a hospital bed.
Yet, the question remained, was it all theater, which will ultimately end in the acquittal of Mubarak and his two sons? And even were the trial itself a serious endeavor, was it possible that the case being put before the court is so bungled and weakly prepared that the presiding judge will have no course other than to acquit? The latter concern is particularly serious in view of the adversarial position of the very police authorities that were responsible for preparing the evidence against the defendants.
Like many other former regime oligarchs, Mubarak is accused of abusing his unregulated power throughout his 30-year rule to accumulate an illegal fortune, and more significantly, of being involved in the killing of peaceful demonstrators during the January 25 Revolution, an accusation that could see him slammed the death penalty.
The build-up to the trial was full of pessimism over the possibility that justice will actually be served, much as facts incriminating the former commander-in-chief in the latter charge are not to be ignored.
To begin with, legal experts voiced astonishment as Mubarak was set to be tried separately from the rest of the defendants indicted on the same charge, including ex-minister of interior Habib El-Adly.
Furthermore, there were widespread doubts over whether or not Mubarak would actually show up in the dock, with many fuelling speculation that his “deteriorating health” would be repeatedly cited as an excuse for him to miss out on the opening session and keep on forcing consecutive delays.
Law gurus also found no rational explanations for why former Spy Chief Omar Suleiman, who acted as vice president in Mubarak’s last few days in power, and Field Marshal and de-facto president Hussein Tantawi were not summoned by the general prosecution to testify after both men released statements that implicate Mubarak in the martyrs’ case.
But much to the public’s surprise, the aforesaid preliminary qualms were all quashed.
Both trials on the killing of protesters were merged few days ahead of the opening session, Mubarak appeared in the cage while lying on a stretcher after medical examinations proved he was healthy enough to stand trial and last but not least, Tantawi and Suleiman were called up by lawyers to give their testimonies, with the former reportedly agreeing to appear at the court.
After the exciting trial opener, new queries were introduced about the evidence against Mubarak and co, the competence of the lawyers representing the martyrs’ families and whether or not the defendants are still receiving special treatment.
Like any case, the verdict in Mubarak’s case will be based on testimonial and physical evidence.
In the questioning that followed the opening session, according to AFP, Mubarak staggeringly accused Tantawi of being responsible for the decision made during the uprising to cut all communication services. The claim, which was perceived to be a sign of despair, was categorically denied by the Supreme Council of the Armed forces (SCAF) and is expected to further incite the military ruler to testify against his predecessor.
Mubarak, El-Adly and ex-prime minister Ahmed Nazif were fined $90.64 million (LE540 million) late in May after being found guilty of cutting off mobile phone and internet services early in the 18-day revolt. The trio has appealed against that ruling.
Tantawi confirmed shortly after SCAF assumed power that the army had rejected “orders to fire on civilians”. Later on, Suleiman reportedly said Mubarak “had complete knowledge of every bullet fired at protesters – and the number of those killed or wounded”. Chief of Staff Sami Anan has also been called to testify.
“Testimonies are of course decisive in the case,” Gamal Eid, one of lawyers who represent the martyrs’ families, told Ahram Online. “If Tantawi and Suleiman repeated their statements while testifying, their words should convict Mubarak. But there is always a chance that the witnesses would say ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t know’.”
Apart from testimonies, physical evidence as well as investigations that shall verify facts and introduce new leads are also perceived to be crucial.
In the protesters murder charge, the physical evidence consists of four rifles, bullets’ casings, some of the casualties’ bloodstained clothes, videos and other documentary evidence. The latter is crucial, according to Sayed Fathi, another lawyer that represents the martyrs’ families.
“We are yet to fully examine the physical evidence, it will take some time. We’ve got the permission to photograph the evidence in order to study it,” he told Ahram Online.
“The documents of the central security forces are extremely important; orders to use live ammunition against protesters should be found there as well as more information, such as the deployment of the police troops.”
Police troops and snipers are accused of killing a large number of demonstrators during the uprising but many of them remain anonymous up till the present time. Mubarak was the supreme commander of the police and is accused of ordering the brutal clampdown on the protesters.
A judge in the court of cassation, who preferred to speak to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, stressed that evidence must be unequivocal in order for Mubarak to be convicted.
“In criminal court, a judge must be 100% sure that the defendant is guilty in order to convict him; the slightest doubt would clear a defendant of the charges against him,” he said.
“I believe the testimonies will be influential, but physical and forensic evidence as well as investigations are also pivotal. It’s like a package that will be assessed by the judge before he rules in the case.
“One example of the physical evidence is the rifles that are believed to have been used to kill the demonstrators. The forensic evidence needs to prove that the bullets that killed the victims were actually fired from these guns, and also verify who used them.”
In the opening session, the lawyers representing the martyrs’ families seemed to lack organization and coordination, especially in comparison with the Farid El-Deeb-led defence team.
Lawyer Hamed Seddik was among those who left an unpleasant impression after staggeringly trying to convince Judge Ahmed Fahmi Refaat that the ousted president had died in 2004 and the defendant is actually “another man” who has since been impersonating the real Mubarak.
Another attorney is Ahmed Seif El-Islam, who did not attend the opening session but might appear in coming ones, said in a youtube video: “I don’t think there was coordination among the lawyers but that will come for sure, especially in the phase when the witnesses will give their testimonies; questions and objectives must be prepared in advance at this point.”
Fathi, who attended the session, said: “The families of the martyrs are numerous and each of them hired a host of lawyers, some of them are from different institutions and rights groups and have different mentalities and goals too. So it was no surprise that there was no coordination.
“What I really don’t like is that there is a sort of competition among them. Their targets are different and some are seeking to take credit. I find that completely unacceptable; the case should come first, before any personal interests.”
Mubarak and his cronies might have appeared in the cage, even so; they were evidently not treated like ordinary defendants.
On their way out, a military police officer shook hands with El-Adly, who was smiling in confidence before shaking hands with another police officer. The resulting uproar forced Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawi to reprimand the concerned police officer. Mubarak’s elder son Alaa was treated in a similar manner and none of the defendants were in handcuffs as they entered and departed the dock, as the law stipulates.
“Indeed the defendants received special treatment,” said Ahmed Ragab, one of the lawyers representing the martyrs’ families. “But the trial itself is what matters of course. The judge should never be affected by the way the defendants are treated, but I have my fears that this could happen at some point.”
In the same respect, Fathi said: “We didn’t want them [security personnel] to treat him badly or exceptionally good. The normal treatment that any defendant receives is what we should have seen.
“El-Adly intended to walk and act like that; he was trying to send a message to the people; he’s challenging everyone. The officers shouldn’t have helped him do that.”
El-Adly, under whom the Ministry of Interior for nearly a decade and a half routinely covered up torture practiced by the police and security forces, is already serving a 17-year sentence in two other cases related to corruption.
Fathi also revealed another aspect that he deems unusual by saying: “When a judge wants to order the admission of a defendant in a medical facility he wouldn’t name a specific hospital or doctor.
“However, Judge Ahmed Fahmi specified that Mubarak will be admitted at the International Medical Centre on the Ismailiya Road and under the supervision of Doctor Yasser Abdel Kader. It was prepared in advance and that doesn’t usually happen.
“I just hope that they are not paving the way to declare Mubarak unfit for trial the next session or the one after,” he added.
Mubarak’s trial resumes on 15 August.