CAIRO — A new trial for deposed Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak ended just minutes after it opened Saturday morning when the presiding judge withdrew, igniting shouts of frustration in the court.
The recusal of Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdallah further delays a case that, for many Egyptians, has come to symbolize the elusiveness of justice in this tumultuous Arab nation more than two years after the revolution that many here had hoped would usher in a transparent democracy.
The 84-year-old Mubarak, his two sons and several former security officials face charges related to corruption and the killing of protesters during Egypt’s 18-day uprising in 2011. A judge overturned Mubarak’s initial life sentence and ordered a retrial for all the defendants in January after both the defense and the prosecution filed appeals.
Abdallah, who presided over a recent case related to violence allegedly perpetrated during the uprising, said Saturday that he was referring the Mubarak case to another court, citing “uneasiness.” Legal experts say it could take weeks for a new judge to be appointed.
The slow process of justice for Mubarak and other former officials has sown anger — and deep suspicion of the courts — in this country of 85 million.
“This whole institution of the judiciary is cast in shadows. It has taken a position against the people,” said Amir Salem, an attorney for families of some of those killed during the uprising.
Others have grown bored — or even sympathetic to the ailing Mubarak — as the court case slowly winds its way through a second year and many other ex-officials have been acquitted for lack of evidence.
“It’s a cold case. You and I have to follow it, but everyone else is tired of it,” said Saad Abdel Wahed, a retired head of the Giza Criminal Court.
Growing frustration with the new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and a floundering economy have deflected attention from the trial. Protests and repeated outbreaks of violence have rattled the country in recent months, upsetting plans for national elections and government negotiations for a badly needed loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Mubarak, despite his reputed frailty, appeared alert and confident in the defendants’ dock Saturday, waving to people in the courtroom and conversing with his sons. In the front row, Mubarak’s attorney, Farid el-Deeb, smoked a cigar.
“When I saw Mubarak today wearing his sunglasses and smiling, you kind of knew what was going to happen,” Abdel Wahed said. “I don’t like him, but we have this expression, ‘You only appreciate your mother when you meet your stepmother.’ The trial is just symbolic to people now. They have bigger issues to worry about.”