Defaced Mubarak statue, Egypt_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak goes on trial Wednesday over his role
in killing protesters, in a stark message to Arab rulers elsewhere that they too
may one day be held to account.
The allegations against Mubarak include
participating with former Oil Minister Sameh Fahmy and businessman Hussein Salem
in squandering public wealth in a natural-gas deal with Israel. Fahmy and Salem
are on trial separately over that deal.
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Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal,
are also charged with crimes allegedly committed in association with their
father. Former interior minister Habib al-Adli and six police officers will be
tried as well.
In domestic politics, putting the former president in the
dock may help quell criticism of the generals now running Egypt, suspected by
protesters of protecting their former commander.
Egyptians camped out in
Cairo for more than three weeks in July demanded faster reforms by the army
council, in power since Mubarak was ousted on February 11 – including swifter
trials of Mubarak and his aides over corruption and protester
Mubarak was ordered to stand trial on May 24 for his role in
killing protesters, as well as for alleged financial improprieties and abuse of
Many suspect the military of foot-dragging over Mubarak, who has
been hospitalized since April in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-
If convicted, Mubarak could face the death penalty. But few
expect that outcome, even if some protesters want it.
Many Egyptians will
be pleased just to see him in court and in the cage where defendants in Egyptian
criminal trials stand. Ironically, one has been erected in the police academy in
Cairo, which was named after Mubarak. His name has since been stripped
A source close to Mubarak said last week that his lawyer would tell
the judge that his client was too ill to attend. But the health minister said on
Tuesday he could be moved.
Protesters are likely be enraged if he does
“The trial of Mubarak is a lesson to candidates for the
presidency to know the fate of those who try to violate the freedom of the
people, or become autocratic,” said senior Muslim Brotherhood member Essam
He was speaking to the state-run daily Al-Ahram, a newspaper
that would never have run a statement from the group while Mubarak was in power
and the Brotherhood was banned. The group has now emerged as one of several
influential political forces.
The message may have already reached Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s President Bashar Assad, who have shown no
sign of quitting. Nor have they offered concessions akin to those Mubarak
offered in vain in his final days in office when he named a vice president and
pledged not to seek another term.
Gulf Arab states may also have been
watching Egypt closely. An army source told Reuters that Saudi Arabia and others
were quietly pressing the army to spare Mubarak, a former ally. His trial sets
an uncomfortable precedent for Arab autocrats.
But in an interview with
Egyptian television, the Saudi ambassador to Cairo denied any such intervention,
saying that Riyadh’s links with Mubarak had ended the day he stepped down and
that his trial was a matter for Egyptians.
Mubarak is not the first Arab
leader to be tried since the start of this year’s ‘Arab Spring.’ Tunisian
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was tried and sentenced in absentia because he
fled to Saudi Arabia.
Mubarak stayed in Egypt, swearing to die
Charges range from conspiring over the killing of demonstrators,
to abuse of power to amass wealth.
The court was originally planned to be
set up in an exhibition and convention center near central Cairo, but was later
moved to the police academy on Cairo’s outskirts.
It is the same complex
where Mubarak delivered a speech on January 23, just two days before protests
erupted. Much of his address discussed the bombing of a church at the start of
“I and all Egyptians salute policemen on their day of celebration
and affirm our pride in their role and sacrifice. We tell them: We appreciate
all your efforts to fight crime in all its forms and your handling of security
in our society,” he said then.
On January 25, protesters took to the
streets. Cairo and other cities soon became battle zones between demonstrators
and police who used gunfire, rubber bullets, water cannon and
After several days of violence, when buildings were torched and
cars wrecked, police were withdrawn and the army moved in to take control.
Soldiers were met with cheers from the crowd.