Mubarak opponents enraged after judge cuts TV coverage

Street clashes break out as Mubarak returned to court; Defense lawyers say if Tantawi will testify, his account could determine trial verdict.

Mubarak trial on tv 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Mubarak trial on tv 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
The judge presiding over the trial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ordered television cameras out of the courtroom Monday until the case concludes, enraging opponents of the deposed leader who vowed to challenge the decision with protests in downtown Cairo.
Mubarak stands accused of authorizing the use of live ammunition to shoot protesters, of corruption and abuse of power. Judge Ahmed Refaat ordered the trial be merged with that of Mubarak’s Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and six others who face similar charges in order to streamline the process.
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Supporters and opponents of Mubarak threw stones at each other and fistfights erupted near the court, set up in a police academy building in a Cairo suburb, as Mubarak flew in by helicopter for the second day of his trial and was wheeled into the courtroom’s steel cage on a hospital bed.
Mubarak is the first head of state who was overthrown during a wave of uprisings in the Arab world this spring to appear in court, and the TV coverage has gripped audiences across the Middle East. A public trial was a key demand of protesters who had camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for weeks in July to press for a swift hearing.
“Preposterous!” said Sherif Mohamed, an engineer who was watching the trial outside the court building in Cairo, after the session was public opinion. Not airing it live means there is a deal with Mubarak.”
Mohamed Ali, 35, said he is going to protest with the people.
“To Tahrir – that is where I am going now. People-power is stronger than people in power,” he said.
The crowd lunged forward as Mubarak arrived and his supporters hurled stones at a group of protesters who demanded the death penalty for the 83-year-old.
The crowd broke through a cordon formed by hundreds of riot police, and the Mubarak supporters chased their opponents away from the court building.
One protester attacked a policeman.
Then police jumped on him and beat him.
“Judge, wake up! Mubarak killed my brothers! Execute the killer!” shouted some in the crowd.
In a courtroom packed with more than 150 excited lawyers, Mubarak looked composed and stern, hands clasped over his chest. An intravenous needle was implanted in his left hand.
He was not wearing the regulation white uniform of prisoners.
He exchanged a few words with his sons, Alaa and Gamal, also standing trial, and spoke up to state his presence.
The sons sought to shield him from cameras, and one of them kissed Mubarak on the forehead to comfort him.
Ousted on February 11, Mubarak fled Cairo to the Red Sea resort of Sharm e-Sheikh. Medical reports issued after he was taken to a hospital following initial questioning in April said he was suffering from heart problems, depression and fainting.
“I want people to read their history and know what this great man has done for us. He kept Egypt stable. He has been humiliated but he is weathering the storm with pride,” said one supporter outside the court.
Judge Refaat had postponed the hearing until September 5 after Mubarak’s lawyer Farid al-Deeb requested time to view all the documents submitted to court.
Lawyers were split in their reaction to suspending television coverage. Monday’s session was marked by rowdy exchanges and scuffles between the dozens of lawyers who pressed towards the bench to make their demands.
“The Egyptian public needs a transparent trial at this stage. If they cannot see what is happening, rumors will circulate and the degree of vagueness surrounding the trial will increase,” said plaintiff lawyer Mahmoud el-Khoudary.
Ahmed Hamrawi, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, said the decision to remove the cameras was reasonable.
“It is understandable to cut live feed of this sensational trial,” he said.
“There are lawyers who are more concerned about appearing in front of the camera than putting up a good argument...
from now the trial session will be more focused and less chaotic.”
Egypt’s ruling military council has promised a transition to democracy in the Arab world’s most populous country – a process far from complete and, the pro-reform camp says, vulnerable to high-level obstruction.
Judging and punishing Mubarak swiftly could assuage the population and ease a peaceful transition to civilian rule.
But with so many witnesses, lawyers, plaintiffs and varied charges, it could drag on for months or years.
In the first court session on August 3, lawyers asked for the head of Egypt’s ruling army council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and about 1,600 others to testify as witnesses.
Lawyers have also called for Tantawi, who was defense minister for two decades under Mubarak and heads the military council, to appear as a witness.
Meanwhile, the ruling military council has enlisted Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost seat of learning in the Sunni world, to help articulate key principles in the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution, the website Bikya Masr reported on Sunday.
Critics see growing ties between the army and Islamist groups as a worrying sign that relatively moderate and liberal factions will be sidelined in post- Mubarak Egypt.