Egyptians anxious about third Mubarak trial session, this time unaired

Lina El-Wardani , Sunday 4 Sep 2011

After seeing former dictator Hosni Mubarak, his two sons and former interior minister in a cage while on trial, a court decision to block coverage left Egyptians wondering what will happen tomorrow

Hosni Mubarak
This video image taken from Egyptian State Television showing 83-year-old former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak laying on a hospital bed (Photo: AP)

Tomorrow, Egypt sees the third session held of the historic trial of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, along with his interior minister Habib El Adly and his top police officers accused of issuing orders to kill unarmed, peaceful protesters during the 25 January Revolution, along with illegal profiteering.

Lawyers have been looking forward to this session that will include the testimony of four significant witnesses. Among these is a very important general, Hussein Moussa, who is the former head of operations in the Central Security Forces who were on the frontline in killing protesters.

According to lawyer Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information,, Moussa is especially important as he was “formally accused of erasing all information and recorded phone calls from the official records”. Eid is not hopeful about the session or the trial in general: “I expect the defence team to try downsize the witnesses' testimonials and find legal faults with the procedures. Honestly, if I were a Mubarak lawyer, I could [have the case dismissed] only be claiming errors in the investigation and trial procedures,” he added. 

Lawyer Amir Salem, also on the victims' side, disagrees with Eid and believes there is still potential in the trial. “This is a huge case and there are piles of evidence against Mubarak, and El-Adly, there is no way they can get away with their crimes. A lot of effort was made by the prosecution, and the court so far, and I am very hopeful,” said Salem.

Local newspapers have reported that a Kuwaiti team of lawyers have volunteered to join Mubarak's defense team, however the minister of justice has stated on Egyptian TV that they have recieved no notification of Kuwaiti lawyers attending the court so far.

The last session, 15 August, was messy. It started two hours late as victims' lawyers fought one another, their screams possible to hear from afar. Over a hundred lawyers were allowed in the court. They argued over who would speak first and who could stand closer to the cameras.

Judge Ahmed Refaat, presiding over the case, kept asking lawyers to sit down and write their demands on paper. He went on to announce that he wanted the court to sit in consecutive sessions. Conditions meant this wasn’t possible. The judge also exclaimed, “I have a list of over a hundred lawyers; Who has the energy to listen to a hundred people?”

By the end of last session the judge announced that live courtroom coverage would no longer be permitted. This left millions of Egyptians, some of whom have been glued to images of their previously untouchable leader lying caged in the dock, unable to watch justice being done. Some activists and relatives of those who died during the 25 January uprising said the decision could forestall justice.

Yet the announcement was met with widespread support from lawyers and other relatives of those who died. Scenes during the trial have often been unedifying, with scores of lawyers shouting across the courtroom. The frenetic scenes led to accusations that many of the lawyers are simply vying to make a name for themselves; posturing for the cameras in the knowledge that the world is watching.

“In the begining I was all for transparency and live broadcast of sessions, but after seeing how this obscured justice and caused a lot of chaos inside and outside the courtroom, now I second the judge’s decision. In the end, the most important thing is justice, and for the trial to go smoothly,” said Salem.

Salem, among other lawyers and observers, expects subsequent sessions to proceed more smoothly with demands submitted on paper by a team of lawyers. The lack of TV cameras broadcasting the trial could result in fewer people attending and give the lawyers less reasons to fight.

But others argue that seeing Mubarak in a cage was perhaps the only assuring sign of the success of the revolution for many Egyptians. Eight months since the January revolution that toppled the regime, little has changed in terms of social justice or robust political cleansing. Labour strikes continue, along with demands for a minimum and maximum wage, and amid rampant unemployment.

Also basic commodities prices have hiked. And on the freedoms front, over 10,000 activists are in military prisons, some facing charges of criticising the ruling military. Seeing Mubarak behind bars was reassuring amid many uncertainties.

Political analyst and chief editor of Wejhat Nazar magazine Ayman El-Sayad believes it is wrong to measure the Egyptian revolution’s success by whether not Mubarak is seen in a cage. “The success of any revolution means a drastic change in society, In 1971, everyone in the regime was in a cage, from the head of the defence ministry, to the intelligence, to the police. Still, people don’t think this was a revolution.” 

El-Sayad is also worried that the case is complicated and may take years to settle. El-Sayad’s main fear, however, is that Mubarak is not tried for the political corruption of the past 30 years.

“He is not even being tried for fraud: neither he nor his regime are being tried for rigging the elections. They are tried as criminals with criminal law, which could be faulted easily. It also gives a wrong impression that these are the only crimes of the notorious regime,” said El-Sayad.

On 3 August 2011, under tremendous public pressure, the Egyptian government put ousted dictator Mubarak on trial for financial corruption as well as issuing orders to shoot unarmed, peaceful protesters during the January 25 Revolution.

Egypt's ruling military council had received harsh criticism from those who believe it has been sluggish in prosecuting former regime officials. When generals announced last month that Mubarak's trial would be televised, many saw it as an olive branch to protesters worried about a lack of transparency.

Both Mubarak and El-Adly could face the death penalty if convicted of ordering the killing of protesters during the January uprising. They also face corruption charges, as do the president's sons.

In the first two sessions, it was difficult to get a glimpse of Mubarak in the courtroom cage as his two sons obstructed the view.

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