Red Sea residents want Mubarak trial, tourists back

On the eve of his trial, many residents are keen for him to face justice. But even more, they want tourists to return.

Egyptian guard at Sharm el Sheikh Int'l Hospital_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Egyptian guard at Sharm el Sheikh Int'l Hospital_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - People who live in the Egyptian tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh are used to having their lives disrupted by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak often came here to relax when he was Egypt's president and has been living here in internal exile in the six months since he was ousted.
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On the eve of his trial, many residents are keen for him to face justice. But even more, they want tourists to return.
As his years in office grew longer, Mubarak spent more time swapping the pollution of Cairo for the clean Red Sea air. When he arrived or left, roads were blocked off by security forces.
But people are not used to empty hotel rooms.
While Sharm el-Sheikh saw none of the violent protests that ripped through Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, tourists still packed their bags to flee and have yet to return in the same numbers.
"Sharm el-Sheikh's problem is not Mubarak, it is lack of security after the uprising. Believe me I want to see him tried but being in a cage is just going after a spectacle nothing more," said shop-owner Abdullah Afifi.
A cage for defendants, typical of Egyptian criminal trials, has been erected in the court in the Police Academy in Cairo where Mubarak's trial will be held on Wednesday.
Before the uprising, tourism generated close to $12 billion a year. Revenues tumbled after protests against Mubarak erupted on Jan. 25. The stalwart US ally was ousted 18 days later and whisked off to Sharm el-Sheikh to his palatial villa in the grounds of the plush Maritim Jolie Ville Golf Hotel.
Then he was hospitalized in April in the resort before being charged with conspiring to kill protesters.
Whether or not he would leave hospital and attend the trial in Cairo was subject of speculation in the hours before it was due to start. Protesters are likely to be furious if he does not turn up, seeing the illness as a ploy to keep him away.
"A speedy and just trial is what is needed the most to calm public anger over Mubarak's corruption," said psychologist Mohamed Sam'aan, who was on a one-week holiday from Alexandria.
But he said it should not be turned into a public spectacle. "The point is not to have an old man, likely to be unaware of his whereabouts, sit in a cage and have an angry public sneer at him and taunt him," he said.
Mubarak is fit enough to be moved, health minister says
With its coral reefs and a vibrant night life, Sharm el-Sheikh is one of Egypt's top resorts in the Sinai Peninsula.
It was once occupied by Israel. Mubarak was commander of the air force in the 1973 war that led to a peace agreement to get it back.
The odd building from the Israeli era still stands but the resort has now expanded vastly since the 1980s, when it was handed back to Egypt.
Mubarak has been held in a hospital in the Sharm el-Sheikh International Hospital, a few kilometers from his villa.
The hospital is designed in the shape of a pyramid, adding to the Disneyland-feel of Sharm el-Sheikh that seems a world away from the crowded chaos of Cairo.
"People of all walks of life come here. Security guarding the hospital come to buy stuff and so do journalists and workers. No one is nervous about Mubarak around here," said a shop owner who gave his name as Abu Yousef.
The health minister has said Mubarak was fit enough to be moved. Medical sources say, however, he has been refusing food, was weakening, and was in a deteriorating psychological state in the hospital.
Despite the talk about whether he would attend trial or not, there was little sign of commotion at the hospital or elsewhere in the resort.
Outside the hospital gates, a few dozen police officers stand watch under the shade of beach umbrellas. Further down the road, holiday-makers, many of them from Egypt rather than abroad, enjoyed the summer sun and clean beaches.
Some say the mystery about Mubarak's movement has not changed.
"You can tell it is the same security-driven attitude that blocks any information about where Mubarak is and keeps everyone guessing," an Egyptian official in Cairo said.