One show in Ramadan is set to steal the limelight from the holy month’s traditional fare of televised entertainment as the much-anticipated trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak gets underway in a few hours. Speculation is rife amidst uncertainties that for the past months have surrounded the possibility of trying the 83-year-old.
Mubarak, who was deposed on 11 February in the wake of the 18-day uprising that sparked the January 25 revolution, should stand trial on 3 August along with both of his sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as ex-minister of interior Habib El-Adly and six of the latter’s assistants.
Lecture hall number 1 at the Police Academy – based in New Cairo on the outskirts of the capital – will host the opening session on Wednesday. The media will be allowed to cover the trial’s consecutive sessions from inside the courtroom. Only Egyptian State TV will be able to broadcast the trial. Authorities have announced that 600 people will be allowed into the courtroom, including lawyers of the defendants, family members of those injured or killed during the uprising and press.
The trial’s venue was changed as recently as Saturday. It had due to be held at the Cairo International Convention Centre but was moved to the Academy for security reasons, informed sources said.
Mubarak behind bars?
The defendants, who are accused of involvement in the killing of peaceful protesters during the January 25 revolution and face potential death sentences should they be found guilty, ought to appear behind bars, like El-Adly did while wearing the blue prison vest in a previous court session.
On Sunday, Egypt's Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud asked Minister of Interior Mansour El-Eissawi and the Ministry of Health to instigate the transfer of Mubarak from the International Sharm El-Sheikh Hospital to Cairo.
Yossri Abdel Razek, one of the lawyers representing the former commander-in-chief, confirmed that his client will be in court. According to media reports, however, Mubarak is likely to miss the opening session, with his “deteriorating health” likely to be cited as an excuse.
The past few months have seen many contradictory claims emerge over his health, not to mention rumours of his passing. He is said to be suffering from severe cancer and heart problems as well as chronic depression. Almost a week ahead of the trial, it was reported that Mubarak is refusing to eat or drink.
All of this has left an impression that Mubarak will not stand trial on Wednesday. “The law stipulates that if the defendant is unable to move because of illness, his trial will be put off,” legal expert Zakaria Abdel Aziz told Egyptian satellite channel OnTV. “He might attend the sessions while lying on a bed or sitting in a [wheel] chair, but if his transportation will jeopardise his life and his lawyers submit official documents that verify that, the trial has to be postponed. He cannot be sentenced in absentia and the judges cannot go to him. He must be present,” he explained.
It is understood that Mubarak, who has been held captive in hospital and not incarcerated in Tora Prison like the other defendants due to his reported health problems, will be transferred to the Police Academy by helicopter.
The Health Ministry stated that “there is an emergency plan in case anything unexpected happens.” An ambulance and a host of doctors will be stationed near the courtroom for his treatment if needed.
“It is the responsibility of the Health Ministry to take care of former President Hosni Mubarak’s health, since he resides in one of its hospitals in Sharm El-Sheikh,” Minister of Health Amr Helmi said. “The ministry is also responsible for his transportation and will provide doctors to escort him on his way to Cairo.”
Helmi also revealed that the latest medical reports state that Mubarak’s condition is fairly stable and will not prevent him from travelling to Cairo or attending the session.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior has assigned 1100 policemen to secure the Police Academy.
Other military forces will also be deployed to protect the facility and secure the roads from which the defendants will arrive.
A reputable judge, 800 defence lawyers
Reputable judge Ahmed Fahmi Refaat has been commissioned to preside over the historical trial.
Refaat, who has previously overseen a number of political cases, has never been perceived as one of the judges who tend to favour the former regime, having sentenced ex-parliamentarian and NDP member Tarek El-Sowesi to 15 years in prison for being involved in a notorious relics smuggling racket. He also returned other verdicts seemingly without considering the best interest of Mubarak’s government.
The ousted president, however, will not be without strong representation. According to his defence team’s official Facebook page, 800 lawyers volunteered to defend Mubarak. Only 50 of them will appear in the court, with Farid El-Deeb leading the team. The rest of the lawyers will be standing outside the hall wearing their robes and forming a human shield along with the disciples of the once untouchable.
An appeal was lodged to prevent Mubarak being tried in a criminal court. One of Mubarak’s lawyers, Abdel Razek, said: “Once the Egyptian people will see him they will refuse the prosecution of their president, who is deemed one of the country’s figures.”
Alaa Abdel Nabi, an engineering student and Mubarak devotee who acts as an administrator for the Facebook page The Union of Mr. President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak’s Fans, is planning to go to the Police Academy on Wednesday. He told Ahram Online that “there is news that he won’t come but we will be at the Police Academy just in case. We will stress our refusal of his trial.
“The supporters of Mubarak will form a line behind the lawyers [who will be forming a human shield] … We are throwing ourselves forward with all our weight on that day, we are expecting around 30,000 to come for the ex-president.”
The families of the martyrs and many anti-Mubarak people and political forces are widely expected to be present outside the hall as well.
The attendees will be allowed to get in from gate 8 while the Ministry of Interior has allocated 20 microbuses to transport them. Private vehicles are strictly prohibited.
Trying and convicting Mubarak has been one of the most prioritized as yet unmet demands of the uprising, with many of the martyrs' families holding him culpable for the loss of their sons, daughters and siblings.
The “unattained retribution” primarily urged many political forces and protesters to start a new sit-in in Tahrir Square on 8 July in order to pile pressure on the authorities to take firmer action against Mubarak, who is also accused of illicit profiteering, and fulfill the other demands too.
Only two days ahead of Mubarak’s trial, on the first of Ramadan, military police and central security forces forcibly dispersed what was left of the demonstrators, after the majority of the protesters suspended the sit-in until further notice.