Hosni Mubarak’s trial won’t be televised, judge rules

August 15, 2011

The chief judge in the trial of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced Monday that the proceedings would no longer be televised, outraging democracy advocates, who had pushed for transparency.

Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years, faces charges of corruption and allegations that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising that led to his ouster. More than 900 people were killed during the demonstrations.

His sons, Alaa and Gamal, also face corruption charges. All of them maintain their innocence.

The former dictator appeared briefly in court Monday, confined to a cage and lying on a hospital bed, an intravenous drip in his hand.

Outside the court, pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators clashed with one another and with police as they watched the proceedings on a giant television screen. The violence may have contributed to Judge Ahmed Refaat’s decision to stop televising the proceedings, though he said only that he was doing so “for the sake of the public.”

“This is very, very serious. It goes straight against what they promised,” said Hani Shukrallah, the editor in chief of al-Ahram Online.

He said the decision would set a dangerous precedent for the justice system in what is supposed to be a new, more democratic Egypt.

Refaat seemed angry in court, lecturing attorneys for the families of slain protesters and accusing them of disorganization.

Many Egyptians said they were disappointed by the proceedings and worried that the trial might end with Mubarak’s acquittal. The knowledge that the judges involved in the case, as well as the prosecutors, came from the Mubarak-era judicial system added to their concerns.

“I’m not very happy about how the whole thing is being managed,” Shukrallah said. “The case looks weak, and you have a case that’s been prepared by the culprits, basically.”

Shukrallah warned that if the trial is seen as unjust, the streets of Cairo could erupt once again.

“What we want from this trial is to establish a moral basis for the future Egyptian state: You cannot get away with murder, torture or with rampant corruption,” Shukrallah said. “If he is not convicted, the revolution is basically being undermined, overthrown really. The military leadership won’t get stability. They are foolish to let it go in that direction.”

Mubarak arrived at the police academy in Cairo, where a lecture hall had been fashioned into a courtroom, shortly before 11 a.m. He wore a blue tracksuit, rather than the white clothing typical of a defendant in Egypt’s court system. But he appeared in a prosecution cage, similar to the ones that had contained so many defendants under his rule. His eyes were closed.

Just after 1 p.m., Refaat adjourned the proceedings until Sept. 5. He also announced that live television broadcasts of the proceedings would stop immediately, for “the sake of the public interest.”

Refaat said the court would combine the cases of Mubarak and former interior minister Habib al-Adli, who is also accused of ordering the killing of protesters. Mubarak’s sons will be tried at the same time.

About 5,000 police officers in riot gear were deployed outside the academy walls to maintain order. To help with security, barbed wire had been placed atop the towering walls of the academy, which was built by Mubarak’s government and once bore his name. Police set up metal barriers to divide the two camps of protesters.

But opponents and supporters of the former president leapt over the barriers and began flinging rocks at one another and smashing cars.

A group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators knocked over a reporter from the Arabic satellite news station al-Jazeera, screaming, “The sons of Mubarak are here.”

When Mubarak’s image was broadcast on the big screen outside the academy, anti-Mubarak demonstrators chanted, “Here comes the thief, the thief has arrived.”

His loyalists fell largely silent. “We love you, Mr. President,” they murmured.

“We cry when we see him like this,” said Nermeen Nabil, 21. “The fact that he ruled us for 30 years is a sign of love, not oppression.”

Dozens of Mubarak loyalists waved pictures of the former president looking regal in his signature aviator sunglasses and military uniform, a stark contrast to the weaker-looking man inside the cage.

Ayman Mamdouh, 40, said he was not alone in his love for the former president. Mamdouh said that Mubarak might have made mistakes but that he did not deserve to be insulted.

Mubarak opponents held up a large banner, “We’re sorry, Mr. President, that your execution was delayed.” Some carried nooses.

“I hope and dream he gets the death sentence today,” Asmaa Mohammed said. Her son, Khaled Attiyah, was killed during the protests.

Hassieb is a special correspondent.

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