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Acquittals of Mubarak ministers anger Egyptians

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CAIRO — An Egyptian court acquitted three ministers from the government of deposed president Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday, and found a fourth guilty in absentia, according to state media.

Anger over corruption and repression generated the 18-day uprising that ended with the ouster of Mubarak in February. Now many Egyptians accuse the courts of not doing enough to hold former officials accountable for their crimes.

Several former officials have been convicted on corruption charges since Mubarak turned over power to the military. However, Mubarak and two sons are still awaiting trial on graft charges and for their alleged role in the killing of protesters during the uprising. More than 845 people were killed during the revolt, but so far no officials have been convicted in connection with the killings except for a noncommissioned officer who was sentenced to death in absentia.

The only top government officials now facing charges related to the deaths of protesters are Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, as well as former interior minister Habib al-Adli and his four deputies. 

The trials of Mubarak and his sons are scheduled for August, but many activists doubt that the military council that is ruling Egypt during a transition to an elected government is truly willing to try the deposed president, who is a former air force commander.

To date, trials of high-profile officials have produced mixed results, leading to widespread public confusion.

On Tuesday, Rachid Mohammed Rachid, minister of foreign trade and industry under Mubarak, was sentenced in absentia to five years for squandering public funds. Rachid, currently abroad, had already been sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement and is subject to arrest under an Interpol warrant.

In a separate case, former information minister Anas al-Fiqi, whom activists accuse of inciting violence during the Egyptian uprising through state media, was acquitted on charges of misusing public funds during parliamentary elections last year that were widely dismissed as fraudulent. Youssef Boutros-Ghali, the former minister of finance, was acquitted on the same charge.

Boutros-Ghali, however, was previously sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison for using his office computer for his electoral campaign and, like Rachid, is being sought by Interpol.

Former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi, now in prison after being convicted of illegally acquiring public property and wasting public funds, was also acquitted on Tuesday in a separate fraud case.

Authorities immediately announced that the general prosecutor’s office plans to appeal the acquittals. The verdicts, which upset many Egyptians, came amid growing tension between the military leadership and those calling for justice.

On Monday, clashes erupted at a courthouse in the city of Suez after a judge ordered the release on bail of seven police officers accused of killing protesters during the uprising.

Enraged relatives of the slain protesters attacked the courthouse and fought with police. Hundreds of protesters gathered to call for an end to military rule under Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who served as defense minister under Mubarak and now heads the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Tensions in the capital have boiled over multiple times in the past week, resulting in the wounding of more than 1,000 people when families of slain protesters battled police in the center of Cairo.

Human rights groups in Egypt say there is no clear process for trying officials of the Mubarak government. Some are acquitted, some are convicted, and the public is given no understanding of the threshold for evidence or indictments, the groups say.

“We don’t even know if there is a coherent prosecution strategy,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “The entire process has been completely ad hoc and almost arbitrary. . . . We are missing a formal state-run institutional process for truth-seeking and accountability for all the crimes of the last 30 years.”

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