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Post Leadership
Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 08/03/2011

Hosni Mubarak, the caged leader

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is seen in a cage in the courtroom for his trial at the Police Academy in Cairo, as Egyptians watch live video. (REUTERS TV - REUTERS)
The sight of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak lying inside a cage on a hospital gurney in a courtroom had to have been shocking to Egyptians. Many doubted until the last minute that the former leader, who ruled Egypt for 30 years, would actually show up.

He is, after all, the first modern Arab leader to be deposed and stand trial by his own people, according to the Wall Street Journal, who quoted Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, for perspective. "This is not something that happens in Egypt. You build pyramids for the pharaohs there, not put them on trial on live TV."

But many non-Egyptians people seeing the photos of the trial likely found it jarring, too. Most of us are unaccustomed to seeing people in cages inside courtrooms. Even more unusual was seeing a man who ruled a major Arab country so autocratically now lying on a hospital bed inside of it.

I’m no expert on global courtroom practices or history, so I will fully admit from the start that I know little about how common such set-ups are or the reasons for their use. A few quick searches prove that they are used in Russia, where everyone from oligarchs to U.S. pastors who didn’t declare their hunting ammunition stand trial behind courtroom cages. There are references to their use in Belarus and Kuwait. And some form of them are even apparently used at times in the U.S.

Perhaps there are some logistical reasons for their use that again, as a legal novice, I don’t know. But I have to agree with Thanassis Cambanis over at The Atlantic—the practice of having people stand trial in a cage before proven guilty seems barbaric, if an attractive photo opportunity for the press. This tradition of the Egyptian court system has the ability to shape opinion, alter our image of defendants, and transform our thinking about the people who stand trial.

The situation reminds me, in some ways, of the recent furor over the perp walk of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund at the center of an alleged sexual assault scandal. After New York City police paraded the one-time French presidential hopeful in front of the media’s cameras, officials in France decried the practice as a “lynching” and “absolutely shocking.” Now that the case against Strauss-Kahn is in doubt, it’s prompting new thinking about the practice’s potential for harm.

What do you think? Is there ever good that can come from leaders being paraded around on a perp walk or put on the stand inside a defendant’s cage? Or is the damage that can be done to public opinion too irreparable? 

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By  |  12:15 PM ET, 08/03/2011

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