Meet Mubarak's lead defence lawyer: El-Dib, every devil's advocate

Mostafa Ali , Wednesday 17 Aug 2011

Farid El-Dib, Mubarak's lead defence lawyer, has carved a career for himself in defending celebrities and taking on cases nobody in Egypt wanted to touch

Farid Eldib
Farid El-Dib, Mubarak's lead defence lawyer

Could one person be as unpopular among supporters of the Egyptian revolution as the former dictator Mubarak and his two “arrogant” sons? Is it possible to be seen in the same light as those seen as responsible for killing hundreds of peaceful protesters and impoverishing millions while growing rich?

If there is such a person, it is the well-known Egyptian lawyer who is defending Mubarak and his sons against murder and corruption charges, Farid El-Dib.

Since last April, when El-Dib announced that he would be representing the ousted president in court, hundreds of Egyptians have been taunting him on Facebook and other media outlets.

Some call him an ultimate opportunist. Others describe him as an ultra-mercenary.

Within three days of the opening of Mubarak’s trial in Cairo on 3 August, 20,000 people had joined a Facebook page called “El-Dib - the lawyer for the devil.”

Understandably, many people who have suffered under the Mubarak regime would most likely come to detest any lawyer who would volunteer to defend the former dictator.

This is nothing new for a man who, over the course of his 40-year career, has represented a number of unpopular figures in controversial legal cases.

Who is Farid El-Dib?

Farid El-Dib was born on 23 October 1943 in Cairo. As a young boy, he studied and memorised the Quran. He joined the faculty of law in 1958 and graduated with honours in 1963.

After graduation, El-Dib landed a job as a prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice during the Arab nationalist regime of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Over the next several years, El-Dib split his time as a prosecutor between Cairo and Sohag in Upper Egypt.

However, in 1969 Abdel Nasser fired El-Dib along with 127 other judges and prosecutors whom he accused of conspiring against his regime.

El-Dib spent the next couple of years working as a lawyer in the Arab League’s International Organisation to Combat Crime. In 1971, he quit the Arab League and started practicing law.

40 years in the Who’s Who club

El-Dib quickly built up a reputation as a solid criminal defence lawyer, not afraid of taking on any case – as long as the client can foot the bill.

By the 1980s, many members of the Egyptian elite club from politicians to artists to businessmen knew where to go when they faced legal woes: Farid El-Dib’s office.

Over the years, El-Dib represented famous stars such as the writer and Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz; actress Yousra; belly dancer Fifi Abdou; the family of former president Sadat and singer Medhat Saleh.

In 2008, El-Dib took on one of the most controversial cases in his career when he agreed to defend Hisham Talaat Moustafa, a member of the Egyptian Parliament and a construction magnate, against murder charges.

Lower courts had indicted Moustafa on ‘incitement to kill’ charges in the murder case of his former lover, Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim. The courts found Moustafa guilty and sentenced him to death. However, El-Dib managed to save Moustafa’s life by convincing an appeal court to reduce his sentence to 15 years in prison on procedural grounds.

Moustafa’s case and murder trial captivated the country’s imagination for months. For many Egyptians, his reduced sentence was confirmation that there were two scales of justice in the country: one for the poor and one for those who can afford lawyers like Farid El-Dib.

El-Dib: Sometimes against the devil

At more than one point in his career, El-Dib actually represented clients whom the Mubarak regime attempted to persecute for different political and economic reasons.

In 2000, El-Dib represented professor and political activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim in court. Mubarak had charged Ibrahim, one of his many political critics, of spying for the United States.

El-Dib and Ibrahim quickly parted ways after the lawyer accused his client of attempting to politicise the trial by mobilizing mass demonstrations outside the courthouse. Despite their differing approaches to the trial, El-Dib continued to lobby the Mubarak government to release Ibrahim based on his poor health.

In 2002, El-Dib represented automobile magnate Hossam Aboul-Fotouh against the Mubarak clan. Mubarak’s sons were widely believed at the time to have persuaded the government to indict Aboul-Fotouh on the most incredible set of corruption and other criminal charges after he allegedly refused to do business with them.

Aboul-Fetouh stood accused of defrauding Egyptian banks, illegal possession of weapons and vice-related charges, among other crimes.

Over the course of the next several years, El-Dib worked the courts methodically and more or less cleared Aboul-Fotouh’s name.

The next prominent case that brought him up against the Mubarak regime came in 2006 when he defended Ayman Nour, the head of the Ghad Party. Nour was pursued by the state on charges of forging voter registration forms, a perceived punishment for challenging Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections.

However, the case of Israeli “spy” Azam Azam was, perhaps, the most controversial case El-Dib has, until now, argued in court.

In 1996, the Mubarak government accused Druze-Israeli businessman Azam Azam, who was a partner in a textile factory in Cairo, of spying for Israel. The prosecutors claimed that Azam was passing important industrial secrets – written in invisible ink on women’s lingerie – to Israel.

Almost no lawyer in Egypt wanted, or at least dared, to step forward to represent Azam. Anti-Israel sentiments ran high and the Egyptian Lawyers’ Syndicate was a strong proponent of the Palestinian cause and all things anti-Israel.

Farid El-Dib, however, volunteered to argue in court that the Egyptian government framed Azam for a crime he did not commit.

Immediately, hundreds of lawyers accused El-Dib of treason and called on the Lawyers’ Syndicate to bar him from practicing law.

El-Dib fired back by arguing that he took the case because he believed Azam to be innocent, and that all those accused of crimes have the right to a lawyer.

In the end El-Dib failed to clear Azam’s name and the courts convicted the Israeli businessman of espionage and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Back with the devil

There is no doubt that El-Dib’s bountiful resume and largely successful track record played a key role in Mubarak’s decision to turn to him.

Last February, El-Dib had initially agreed to represent Mubarak’s former minister of interior Habib El-Adly in court against money laundering charges.

However, when the ruling military council decided to bring up Mubarak himself on corruption and murder charges, El-Dib walked out on El-Adly and rushed to defend the former dictator.

Since then, El-Dib has not just been Mubarak’s lawyer, but also his main spokesperson in the press, both locally and internationally.

El-Dib developed a public relations campaign to raise sympathy among the public for the fallen dictator. This included regularly leaking to the media medical reports claiming that Mubarak’s health is deteriorating as he slipped into and out of comas and his colon cancer was in remission and on and on.

Furthermore, El-Dib visited a number of television networks to press the case that Mubarak is innocent of all charges of murdering protesters and corruption.

Last May, for example, El-Dib told CNN that Mubarak did not have the billions of dollars that some claim he stole from Egypt, and that his fortune is no more than six million pounds, earned during more than 60 years in the hard service of his country. He added that he wants the world to know that Mubarak was deeply hurt that some people believe he gave the order to shoot unarmed protesters during the early days of the revolution.

In terms of in-court strategy to exonerate the dictator, El-Dib made it clear from the first two sessions that have taken place what path he intends to follow.

First, El-Dib will argue that Mubarak was not aware that his subordinates were killing protesters in the first few days of the January uprising against him.

This will be a complemented by dragging the trial out for as long as possible, perhaps to allow the ailing president ample time to “check out” before doing actual jail time or facing execution.

Indeed, El-Dib has already asked the presiding judge to allow him to call a total of 1,631 potential witnesses to testify.

According to lawyers representing the families of the victims, El-Dib will rely heavily on bad investigative procedure and incomplete records from crime scenes in order to poke holes in the case against Mubarak.

With 40 years of experience under his arms, El-Dib, a proven and tenacious criminal defence lawyer, will certainly give the prosecution and the families of the victims a run for their “blood.”

Last Monday, as those in court waited for the second session of Mubarak’s trial to start, as families of the victims stared down the deposed president and his two sons in the defendants’ cage, and as the victims’ lawyers argued amongst themselves once again as they did in the first session, Farid El-Dib sat quietly on his bench without saying much.

The 68-year-old “lawyer for the devil” was planning his next move in the biggest case of his career.

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