January 19, 2012

SINCE TAKING power 11 months ago, Egypt’s ruling military council has perpetrated a host of injustices. It has subjected some 12,000 civilians to summary military trials, in which 8,000 have been convicted. It has imprisoned bloggers and liberal activists while shielding police and troops who have shot and killed protesters. It launched raids against American and U.S.-financed non-government groups involved in human rights and democracy promotion.

To all that must be added this: The generals have also staged a trial for their former president, Hosni Mubarak, that in every respect has been a travesty.

Mr. Mubarak, who is 83 and reported to be gravely ill, has been transported from a military hospital to a cage in a Cairo courtroom several days this month for prosecution on both civil and criminal charges, ranging from premeditated murder to economic corruption. His co-defendants include his two sons, his former interior minister, four senior police officials and a businessman. Scores of lawyers crowd the courtroom, purporting to represent the families of his victims.

This would be a process of massive complexity if it were scrupulously carried out; thousands of witnesses have been listed by the prosecution and defense. Yet the judge has allotted just a handful of days this month and next to completing the trial, including five sessions for Mr. Mubarak’s defense. The prosecution has already wrapped up its case — and has demanded that the former president and his interior minister be given the death penalty.

Mr. Mubarak is likely guilty of serious crimes, including complicity in the death of protesters during the popular revolution against his government last year. But the prosecution has presented almost no hard evidence to establish his guilt. Instead they have delivered flowery speeches denouncing Mr. Mubarak’s regime, along with what amounts to conjecture. The president, they say, must have been asked for permission to fire on protesters; or should have done something to stop it; or is ultimately responsible as president for any crimes committed by his regime.

Even some Egyptian human rights activists, to their credit, are dismayed by the shoddiness of this case. “The prosecution’s position could motivate the emotions of the people, but it has no effect in terms of legality,” Gamal Eid, an attorney working for families of slain protesters, told the Wall Street Journal. “Mubarak is a criminal, but from a legal point of view there is very weak evidence.”

Observers in Cairo expect the result of this political case will be a political verdict. Mr. Mubarak will escape the death penalty but will be handed a long term in prison before being returned to his hospital bed. With this, the military council will hope to satisfy an increasingly restless public and pave the way for its own immunity from prosecution under the civilian government due to take power later this year. For all concerned — the generals, Mr. Mubarak and Egyptian society — this would be an injustice.